Sheriff should heed his epiphany
Sussex County Sheriff Jeff Christopher hit the nail squarely on the head recently. It came in comments following Superior Court Judge T. Henley Graves’ not-surprising decision that just because the state’s constitution labels sheriffs as conservators of the peace, it doesn’t give sheriffs arrest powers. Equally unsurprising was Christopher’s pronouncement that he plans to appeal the decision to the Delaware Supreme Court. His epiphany, however, came in his next comment: He said he smelled politics at work in these decisions. Bingo!
The power structure of Delaware, from Sussex County Council all the way up, has shown no inclination to add another layer of law enforcement to the local and state bureaucracy.
People who elect that power structure are also aligned with that thinking. And so are the courts. Christopher can take his case to the state Supreme Court, but it’s a waste of time and money.
There is enough murkiness in this issue to allow a substantiated decision in either direction. In this nation, which ultimately draws its strength from the time-tested principles of democracy, politics will prevail.
Christopher’s ideas about strengthening law enforcement powers of the sheriff’s department aren’t all bad. Having additional law enforcement presence in a rapidly growing county, where crime is also increasing, makes sense. The major objection is the perception that strengthening those powers would mean the creation of a whole new police department and all the considerable expenses that go with that.
We have a state police and municipal police structure in place that already offers a framework. If Christopher could show that empowering officers already in place in the sheriff’s department could add more law enforcement heft less expensively than funding additional Delaware State Police officers, he would at least get the ear of fiscally conservative Sussex.
But if he wants to have any success at all, he’s going to have to follow his newfound enlightenment and go the political route - not the judicial one.