Fenwick council turns down mutual police assistance agreement

The Fenwick Island Town Council voted on Friday, Jan. 24, to not join a mutual assistance agreement with two neighboring towns.

The South Bethany and Ocean View town councils had previously agreed to join forces in the agreement, which allows the towns’ police departments to help each other in more formal ways than they previously had. Each of the departments’ officers now have full arrest powers in the other town and will be considered sworn officers by each other’s departments.

The agreement comes from a less formal arrangement in which Ocean View and Fenwick Island helped South Bethany as it rebuilt its department following the departure last summer of most of the force.

Fenwick Island officials had tabled the move when some council members expressed concerns about liability for its department, as well as other issues, such as whether their officers would spend too much time answering calls in the other jurisdictions, rather than in Fenwick Island.

The Fenwick Island Town Council held a special meeting to address those concerns, at which both South Bethany Police Chief Jason Lovins and Ocean View Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin spoke.

In the end, the Fenwick council voted 5-2 against the measure. Vice Mayor Richard Mais and Council Member Mike Houser voted in favor of the collaboration, while Mayor Eugene Langan and Council Members Bernie Merritt, Bill Weistling, Gardner Bunting and Vicki Carmean voted against it.

Before the vote at the Fenwick council’s Jan. 24 meeting, and given an opportunity to comment by the Coastal Point afterward, Fenwick Island Police Chief William Boyden declined to comment.

“I have nothing to add to the Jan. 10 meeting,” he said before the vote.

Each of the council members gave a brief summation of why they were voting as they did.

Merritt said, “The status quo is working well,” referring to the informal arrangement between area departments where they help each other in emergencies. Weistling said he was “with Bernie. We’re a small force; we only have five officers,” Weistling said, adding that he feels their time is better spent within the town limits.

Carmean, who had been the most vocally opposed to the mutual assistance agreement, said, “We don’t need to change what is working well.” She said she felt the area involved — the towns of Ocean View and South Bethany — is “way too big for our limited force to handle.

“I think what we have going on in the town now is fantastic,” Carmean said, adding that residents she had talked to about the proposed agreement said they were very happy with the current response time of the Fenwick Island officers.

“I have never voted anything down that the police wanted, except for the Segway,” she said. “And I was proved right on that one. The bank got robbed, and the police chief was out on the Segway and couldn’t chase down the robber.”

Bunting agreed, saying he saw “no need” for the agreement and adding that the residents he had spoken to were largely against the agreement.

“Any assistance that we need in an emergency will happen by way of dispatch anyway,” Bunting said.

Langan said, “I don’t want our police leaving town” to possibly patrol other towns.

Mais, voting in favor of the agreement, said, “I didn’t see any negatives to it. It’s an opportunity for our officers to work with our local police departments. I didn’t see any negatives to it,” Mais said, adding that questions about liability issues or manpower concerns were answered in the Jan. 10 discussion.

“Our officers would not be leaving town unless the chief approves it,” Mais said.

Houser said he based his “yes” vote on concerns regarding “perceptions of the professionalism of our police force by their nearby jurisdictions, as well as public perceptions” of the department if it doesn’t join with the other two towns in the agreement. “I think that should be a major concern,” Houser said.

In other business from the Jan. 24 meeting, Carmean announced that the Town’s efforts to implement pedestrian safety measures on Coastal Highway are progressing.

She said she had attended a Jan. 14 meeting of a bicycle- and pedestrian-safety working group organized by DelDOT “to protect residents and visitors traveling via Route 1 and other major routes” — particularly during the busy summer months.

Carmean shared an example of a flier DelDOT is promoting for resort towns “to encourage people to really think about what they’re doing when they’re out on the roads this summer.”

She said it had become apparent at the second group meeting that the towns are going to be expected to share in the cost of the fliers, which will be distributed to businesses and real estate offices.

Carmean also said that surveyors are currently taking preliminary measurements in advance of the installation of sidewalks along Route 1.

She said that although the Town had received “no commitment” from DelDOT regarding its request for lighted signs near crosswalks, “We just have to keep working on it.”


By Kerin Magill
Staff Reporter