South Bethany officials are moving forward to rebuild the town’s police department after nearly the entire department resigned in the last year.
At a special meeting on April 9, the South Bethany Town Council voted to hire a temporary administrator. Although they’re calling it “a contractual assignment as the town’s public safety consultant,” Michael Carroll will act in a similar role to a police chief in overseeing the day-to-day operations, as well as advising on paths forward. He will not be considered a regular employee.
The Town had been researching the option since December.
“This position was going to happen with or without the retirement of Chief [Troy] Crowson. We needed that much help,” said Mayor Tim Saxton.
“I’m going to be blunt. Things weren’t getting done, and additional help was needed. The SOPs weren’t getting done and other items that needed to get done. With the retirement of Chief Crowson, we felt we needed to expedite this a little faster.”
The vote was unopposed, with Councilman Jerry Masiello absent and Councilman Jimmy Oliver exiting before the final hiring decision.
Michael J. Carroll brings to the role more than 40 years of law enforcement experience. Now retired, he served at various Pennsylvania townships, including 20 years as a police chief. He has been an instructor in police training and testified for state committees on law-enforcement issues. He was president of county, state and regional police groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). He lives in Millsboro with his wife, Donna Carroll, who also worked in policing.
Mayor Pro-Tem Sue Callaway drew from her own professional contacts to find candidates, so Carroll was recommended by the former head of the IACP.
“He has been involved in law-enforcement for 40 years and just happens to live locally as well,” Callaway said.
“We have two officers on duty, and we are entering a very, very busy and productive time in our community,” Callaway said. “Mindful of public safety and moving forward and building a very strong police department for our community, we started looking at a plan of what we can do during this interim period.”
Upon meeting Carroll in person, Callaway “came out of the meeting feeling like we got lucky” to find this professional “with great respect for law-enforcement, great respect for the community.”
The candidate himself was discussed for roughly 40 minutes in executive session before his bio was read to the public.
“We have been very focused on creating a law-enforcement department that meets our community’s needs and responds to the requests from our community. … There’s no ulterior motive to it. It’s bringing in law-enforcement expertise,” Callaway said. “We’re on the cusp of the summer season. … If we want to stay focused on building a strong police department, this person will assist us in doing that.”
He will not be a certified or sworn officer, but a civilian administrator working from the chief’s office. Carroll will provide administrative oversight and support of the SBPD, including scheduling, timesheets, leave requests, expense reports, training and so forth.
He’ll also help recruit, interview and hire a new police chief, as well as the various seasonal and permanent officers.
Town Manager Maureen Hartman will oversee the position, and she can assign Carroll to other tasks as needed. All police department staff will report to him.
He will also review and offer suggestions for updated standard operating procedures (SOPs), a task that town officials said was previously not accomplished in a timely manner.
“This is a [consultant] scope of work. This is not an employee of the Town,” Saxton said.
Councilman Jimmy Oliver, who telephoned in to the first half of the meeting, voted against the scope-of-work document (on a vote that passed 5-1) because, he said, he wanted to pin down a specific dollar amount while the Town is tight on money.
The initial contract is for 30 hours per week, for up to three months. Carroll’s hourly pay ($38.50) was discussed in executive session and wasn’t revealed until Wednesday, after Carroll agreed to take the job.
That said, town council members said they hope Carroll won’t be needed for the whole three months. Although his contract can be renewed, the council emphasized that their focus must be on finding a new chief.
For the new chief, Saxton said he expects a strong pool of in-state and out-of-state candidates, since advertising actually starts next week and applications were already coming in.
Sgt. Patrick Wiley was just promoted from his position as corporal (which the council planned to recognize at their regular meeting on Friday). Another fulltime officer has just begun but still needs several Delaware certifications. Additionally, a new recruit has just begun his six-month stint at the state police academy.
Since early 2018, with the exception of Wiley, the entire police force has resigned from South Bethany.
“I have seen more productivity in the past three weeks in the newly promoted sergeant than I saw in the last three months, so we should all be very grateful that we have Sgt. Wiley and … support him as we move forward,” Saxton said.
But between the paperwork and trying to maintain patrols, “Patrick cannot do it all, and he would try his darnedest, but it’s not fair to Patrick,” Saxton said, and others nodded.
The Town needs a police expert to oversee operations, especially as South Bethany prepares to hire police patrols or security staff. (That discussion is also to continue on Friday.)
Public seeks professionalism and oversight
The council members this week also shared their unwillingness to have an ad hoc committee on public safety.
“It’s not a terrible idea, but that’s not what this town needs at this point — a group of people meeting and talking about what should be done,” said Callaway, who had also floated the idea several years ago, to little avail. “We need somebody that gets there in the trenches, knows what’s going on, knows policework, knows how to make decisions, knows how to assess what’s there.”
“The police department is the responsibility of town government, not a town committee,” Saxton agreed.
Additionally, Hartman has direct experience in supervising a unionized police force, noted Councilman Don Boteler.
Resident Larry Budd agreed with the need for professional help, but he emphasized the transparency that a committee could provide.
Several other residents also said they approved of the Town’s hiring an interim advisor.
The town council is preparing to pass the 2020-fiscal-year budget on April 12. Since it includes the salaries for police officers who have not yet been hired, the Town will redirect some unused funds to pay for ameliorative measures, such as this administrator or hired police patrols.
Neighbors in need
Until SBPD has a full contingent of officers, they have solicited paid assistance from nearby municipalities (which will be discussed at the regular April 12 meeting at 6 p.m.). The Ocean View Police Department and Delaware State Police have shown an interest in helping.
In fact, also on April 9, the Ocean View Town Council unanimously voted to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for police service to South Bethany.
“They’ve asked us to help them out a little bit until they get back up on their feet,” said OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin. “I think they’re working to do that as quickly as possible, but sometimes when you’re talking about hiring and training people it takes time.
Essentially, South Bethany will pay the OVPD for routine police service, including patrols, traffic enforcement, calls for service and safety/welfare checks. The schedule will be determined by both heads of police. It’s a 90-day contract that can be extended.
The cost is the same as if OVPD were hired out for any other job, such as a construction project on Route 26: the officer overtime rate of 1.5 times the regular wage; use of car for $25 hourly; and an administrative fee of 10 percent the employee’s regular rate.
“So we can look our citizens in the eye and say, ‘This is costing you absolutely nothing,’” McLaughlin told the Ocean View Town Council. “My big thing is we want to make sure there’s no cost to the citizens of Ocean View and no impact on police services in Ocean View. I think we’ve got that covered with this agreement.”
The Delaware State Police have been providing similar paid patrol services for other local towns that lack a police department, including Frankford and Millville.
In the dead of the night
Regardless of police staffing and arrangements, emergency 911 calls will always be answered immediately. Local police respond to each other’s emergencies as needed, although a non-emergency might take longer.
“Emergency calls are covered. We’re handling them anyway,” McLaughlin said. “They haven’t always had 24-hour protection over the last few years. If somebody calls 911 in the middle of the night, they could have a Bethany cop coming, a Fenwick cop coming, an Ocean View cop coming and a state trooper coming.”
Point reporter Maria Counts contributed to this story.
By Laura Walter