Letter — Councilman weighs in on police issues


Editor:

I am writing to you in response to the article published in the Oct. 26, 2018 edition of the Coastal Point entitled, “South Bethany police concerns loom, but new hires are in the works,” and “The mailer” from the anonymous “Concerned Citizens of South Bethany.”  

I am a new Council member, recently appointed in June 2018. During my short tenure I have been exasperated by the dispersion of unsubstantiated and non-factual statements concerning the police department and actions of the Town Council, many of which have, unfortunately, appear to have originated from our police chief. I have only dealt with this for four months, but this has been going on for over a year. I am a big supporter of the police department. I have spent the last four months researching the facts, and I want to set a few things straight. 

The former mayor and council engaged two firms, The Center for Public Safety Management (CPSM) and American Law Enforcement Training and Consulting, LLC (ALETC) — both with extensive experience in the area of police department organization and operations — to perform operational studies on the SBPD and provide observations and recommendations. 

The original purpose was to help the Chief and department with operational improvements, avoidance of conflict with the Town Personnel Policy and to make recommendations on rank and pay structure. Redacted versions of these studies were released to the public in May 11, 2018. 

Instead of working with the Town Council on the recommendations, the officers, through a lawyer, issued a “demand letter” which the Chief supported, which prevented them from participating in solving the problems. The letter made numerous unsubstantiated claims, necessitated the expenditure of significant sums of money to respond to and repudiate the claims, and seriously compromised the working relationship between the Town Council and the police department.  This does not seem like working together for the best interests of the Town.

The original structure of the PD had 16 levels of advancement, for an agency that consists of only six (6) positions, including the Chief of Police. When CPSM produced its report on Oct. 31, 2017, it recommended reducing the levels to six. The Warren Report reached to the same conclusion — significantly reducing the ranks. The Town Council followed these recommendations of these experts, and passed a reduction of ranks (not positions) in the police department to six in December 2017. This was based on recommendations of two experienced consulting firms that, together, have significant experience nationwide and with small Delaware police departments. Redacted versions of these two studies are available from Town Hall.

CPSM and the Warren study also pointed out some other items that are of more concern. Quotes from the two studies: 

• “We have never reviewed a worse operating document for a public safety agency having studied over 300 departments.”

• “We also note that apparently the creation of [the PD manual] was a matter of simply copying another agency’s manual since some, such as DCPA 3.1.6, refers to the Ocean View Police Department.” 

• “The current processes are so complicated and convoluted that in the writer’s opinion it would be impossible for a police department the size of South Bethany to in fact follow them.” 

• ”[In] the Career Development document, the entire section #4 was lifted verbatim from a non-Delaware police department which apparently utilizes multiple ranks not even available in SB PD or any other PD in the State of Delaware. Ranks such as Corporal 2, Sergeant 1st class, Master Sgt., LT 1 and LT Second Class etc.”  

As to the 1,952 supposed “lost man-hours” mentioned in the article, this has not been taken up by overtime. Quote from Chief Crowson: “We’re short-staffed. We’re trying to still maintain decent service, but it’s limited.” 

Based on a comparison of police reported incidents for 2017 versus 2018 for the months of July, August and September the number of complaints are down 58 percent (2017 complaints 291 versus 2018 complaints 171). There is no indication of missed calls or inability to provide service to the residents of South Bethany.  

Since Feb. 16, 2018 the police department was down one position, and the council decided not to fill the position.  The Chief agreed that this was workable, while not preferable.  From Feb. 16, 2018, through Oct. 1, 2018 (seven months), only 62 total hours of overtime have been charged, for the remaining five officers. The additional officers that resigned left on May 2, 2018, and Sept. 4, 2018 respectively.  

The Town Council has not stood by idly, as Chief Crowson would suggest, but has done the following to address concerns about the Police Department; (please refer to town meeting minutes from August, 2017 through August, 2018).

a) Paid over $150,000, with the help of consultants, to remodel and re-construct the police department;

b) Increased the base starting salary of entry level police officer and; 

c) Increased the pay of all current officers.

d) Simplified the rank structure to make sense within the confines of a small agency.

These actions were directly related to recommendations provided by the two expert studies performed. The Town Council remains focused on the delivery of positive community policing and the public safety of our town, and continues to look at options to most effectively and efficiently deliver public safety in the future.  

I consider it improper for Chief Crowson to have commented on the consideration of specific candidates for hire, or to imply that Council is uncaring about this issue. To the contrary, hiring officers is a critical decision that cannot be undertaken lightly just to fill a vacancy. We continue to support and hope to work constructively with the Chief in the hiring of police officers that fit our town needs.

I also find it interesting that in all of the Council meetings I have attended since the distribution of the mailer, no one representing “The Concerned Citizens of South Bethany” has attended. In fact, no one has ever come forward to speak on behalf of this group. If there are questions about these facts or the performance of the police department, I urge you to attend the next council meeting and air your concerns. I believe my fellow council members would concur.   

With a police department budget of over $700,000 and a budget overrun last year of over $120,000 directly related to the police department, I think it is time to embrace the change recommended and passed, and start thinking critically about the Department, and becoming more efficient. I hope Chief Crowson agrees.

 

Jim Oliver

South Bethany