Ocean View residents debate public safety
“As everyone is well aware, we’ve had a reduction in staff, and the remaining officers are working very hard,” said Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin at this week’s town council meeting. “It is going to be a difficult summer for us. We will not have 24-7 coverage in Ocean View. That will be the first time since 2001. We’re going to do our best to be out there as much as we can with the resourses we have available.”
Following the announcement that three police officers were leaving the OVPD to take jobs in other local municipalities, some residents have asserted that salaries could not be the reason officers have been leaving.
“Police salaries of officers in Ocean View are very competitive,” said former councilman and resident Perry Mitchell.
Councilman Tom Sheeran, though, has requested that council have a salary study conducted by an independent agency, following a public bid.
“My feeling is that we did have a few salary studies done… They are not overly expensive, and I suggest we put a bid to see what we get in regard to studying all Ocean View employees.”
Sheeran said that he had discussed the proposed study with the newly hired town manager, Rick Konrad – currently city manager in Fruitland, Md., and set to start in Ocean View on April 15 – who told him he was “on board” with the town conducting a study.
Mayor Gordon Wood said he believed that an independent study would be beneficial for the town.
“I was intimately involved with the previous town manager’s study and the chief’s study. Both of them were criticized. This would be independent.”
Resident and former Philadelphia police officer Carmine Calciano asked why the town cannot match the salaries of surrounding departments.
“Why can’t we match those salaries? If we’re comparable, these gentlemen wouldn’t have left, and that’s just the way I see it.”
Resident Kathy Vengazo said that she is concerned that the information being reported regarding police officers’ departures is inaccurate.
“I’m actually receiving information that all of them left for less pay. Several months ago, the decision was made that the morale in the police department was not good, so that it would be fixed by giving them inflated titles. That apparently didn’t fix it. Now three people have left. If they left for less money, that’s an indication to me that there is a morale problem that we have to identify first, as to why these people are actually leaving. I think we need to find out what the basic problems are.”
Walter Curran, president of the Bear Trap Dunes homeowners’ association, said that his development wants 24/7 police coverage in town and would support a tax increase if that would help retain officers in the town’s police department.
“I’m not a cop, I’ve never been a cop. We are here to support entirely the concept of 24/7. I am speaking officially for the HOA that none of us like to pay taxes but we want the money to be used effectively .We do want 24/7 coverage. We do want it safe and we will support that, even if it means some slightly increased taxes… even though that is heresy nowadays in these economic times. I am a fiscal conservative, I don’t give anybody’s money away, but I do believe you have to prioritize.”
Resident Jim Tanis asked why, if healthcare is such a concern for officers, can’t the town take some action and demand that the State allow the municipality to join the State’s Blue Cross Blue Shield healthcare plan.
“You are absolutely on point,” said Mayor Gordon Wood. “A number of years ago, the Town of Ocean View opted out of the State plan. The State then put a legislative moratorium on joining the plan because communities were opting in and opting out.”
Wood said he has had conversations with state Rep. Gerald Hocker about the Town’s desire to rejoin the State healthcare plan and that he believes Hocker would be willing to take the issue to the legislature.
Resident and former Montgomery County, Md., police officer George Pickrell said that he believes the police department is “padding the books.”
“For every one arrest, every charge was counted as a separate arrest. You have one body, you might have 10 charges. That’s 10 arrests. That’s what I’m talking about padding the books. That’s one arrest,” explained Pickrell. “That’s how you get things done. That’s how you get more money, by saying, ‘Hey, look at all we do.’”
Pickrell cited a police report that officer Mark Burton wrote last March, which stated that McLaughlin “instructed” him to recover election signs. The report goes on to say that the signs were recovered and returned to Pickrell.
“To me, that’s just a bunch of nonsense. Is that a reportable offence or is it just nonsense? It just doesn’t seem to be that an officer should spend his time writing what the chief of police tells him to do.”
“That’s why we break this down in such great detail, so that it is plainly evident everything that we do here,” explained McLaughlin.
Pickrell said he also agrees with Mitchell, that the town’s officers have competitive salaries.
Resident Elaine Birkmeyer said that she is in full support of the police department and hopes that more residents will realize there is crime within the town.
“I’m just appalled by the hatchet job that continues year after year after year on the police department. We need the police more than anybody,” she said. “The people that say there is no crime in Ocean View, they’d better wake up — there’s crime here. I really would like to see this end.”
Councilman Bob Lawless suggested that council consider adopting the Sussex County Return Day practice of “burying the hatchet” and at the next council meeting look to establish an end date for town issues that have been discussed without end, “where we look at the problems that have been batted back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, be considered to be ended.
“From that date forward, let us then find new things to wrangle about, rather than going back to beat our heads against walls that have resisted our skulls low these many months,” he suggested.
“Every issue seems to be polarized. It’s time for us to work together,” added Wood.