Hiring three more full-time officers will help the Dewey Beach Police Department provide better services and enhance officer safety, Chief Constance Speake summarized in her request for manpower at the commissioners’ July 21 meeting.
Officers work 12-hour shifts, Speake said. With eight full-time officers, not including herself or Lt. Cliff Dempsey, she said, staffing can be a challenge, particularly when an injury sidelines an officer, as happened earlier in the summer.
With three additional full-time officers, Speake said she could create patrol teams, each comprising five full-time officers, with a minimum of two employees working at all times.
Two officers would work the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. day shift, and two would work the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. night shift, she said. The four officers would be overseen by one sergeant whose hours would overlap the two shifts.
The K9, set to join the force this fall after training, would be assigned a rotating shift with working hours set for when a police service dog is most needed, she said. Including the dog, Dempsey and herself, Speake said the force would comprise 13 full-time officers.
Seasonal officers can handle only civil and low-level criminal offenses, Speake said, and are not equipped to deal with armed or dangerous felons, or to conduct in-depth criminal investigations.
As examples of how quickly the department can become short-staffed, Speake said a standard DUI takes an officer off the street for four to six hours. In recent incidents involving sexual assault and stabbing, the officers handling the cases worked 17- and 18-hour days, respectively, she said.
Officers from outside agencies would still be needed on summer weekends, but not as many, she said. Training and development could occur during the off-season so officers can receive education in their areas of interest and expertise, leading to job satisfaction and retention, she said.
Mayor Bill Stevens said it is his understanding that commissioners approve the budget, and the chief determines how to staff the department according to the budget. Staffing three new positions would be a long-term investment of funds, he said.
Commissioner Gary Persinger said he is not sure that council’s job ends with approving the budget; he said commissioners approve individual salaries as part of the budget.
Commissioner David Jasinski said staffing of all departments should be looked at from a multi-year perspective. Commissioners need to know departments’ desired staffing plans going forward and how they will be funded. He said he’s reluctant to approve the request without having a full picture.
Persinger said he would support the chief and trusts that when she says she needs the staff, she needs the staff, but he just wants to ensure it is handled properly per the charter. He said he doesn’t want to develop a staffing plan on the back of an envelope.
The police academy starts in early October, Speake said, and she has seasonal officers who are of age and want to be full-time police officers. All agencies are hiring, she said.
“If I wait, they’re going to be gone,” she said. “If I don’t hire them now, they will go to other agencies. I actually have people who want to come to Dewey, people I have worked with as seasonals that I have seen with my own eyes ... do a good job for me.”
Officers attend the academy for five months, she said, then receive additional training up to 12 weeks. By Memorial Day weekend 2024, they will be ready to go, she said.
The perception of the police department is better than it’s ever been, Stevens said, and town hall is operating at high levels.
“We will never be criticized for improving public safety, but we do need to be fiscally prudent,” he said, estimating it would cost about $240,000 for three new officers, which he would support.
Stevens said commissioners appear to support the additional staff, and he didn’t want the three potential officers to go anywhere else. He asked Speake to present a plan at the next meeting in August.