A citizens group has issued a report challenging a presentation last month on Dewey police department’s use of a military surplus program.
Calling Commissioner Paul Bauer’s presentation to council inaccurate, Dewey Citizens for Accountability undertook this research to set the record straight, reads the group’s Jan. 23 report.
“It would be a great disservice for the public and the town for the Bauer presentation to be relied on, but it’s the only presentation so far put before council,” states the 19-page report.
The citizens’ report states the police department has received $2.85 million in military hardware since 2014.
“The accounts of Dewey Beach relating to the sale of this equipment are held by the Police Department off‐budget, and are held in accounts outside the review of even the town’s own auditors, as well as the residents,” said the report.
The DCA, which says it has more than two dozen members, was formed in September by Dewey property owner Jeffrey Smith. At the time, he said the group was formed to make sure town council addresses accounting issues associated with the police department’s handling of a federal military surplus program.
In the days following the citizen report, Smith said the recent council presentation amounted to government propaganda.
“I think Bauer was told these things by the police department and then he regurgitated them,” Smith said.
Bauer’s 20-minute presentation included a video on the program produced by the federal government and a slideshow with multiple documents that appear to show at least former Town Manager Marc Appelbaum knew about the program, signed off on the police department’s participation in the program, and actively used the program to the benefit of not only the police department but the administrative side as well.
During the council meeting, Commissioner Gary Persinger was not satisfied with the presentation, and he questioned Bauer on how hundreds of items received by the police department had been managed or disposed of.
Bauer said the information was available online in spreadsheet form, and told Persinger he could go through the process of looking everything up himself.
Bauer said he stands by the council presentation.
“I did research along with the police to get factual information. It is accurate,” said Bauer in a Feb. 1 email. “It is disappointing that Mr. Smith feels the way he does because we do agree on accountability and transparency. The program was not concealed. This is a federal program that thousands of police departments participate. The town has a restricted bank account for police which is where money is deposited. It has been there for many years.”
The citizens’ report also questions the validity of a letter used as evidence showing Appelbaum submitted a letter saying he and all council member knew about the program in October 2015.
Smith said while he is not sure, it’s likely than the letter is not real, and it should not be relied on as proof.
“If the letter turns out to be real, we’ll hold ourselves accountable,” Smith said. “We’re hoping that council is willing to change their minds when the facts change.”
Bauer said the letter is only one part of the documentation that he provided showing the town management, as well as elected officials, knew or should have known as far back as 2015.
The citizens’ report also includes graphs showing, per capita, Dewey has used the program significantly more than surrounding communities. According to the data, in 2017, Dewey acquired a little less than $607,500 worth of inventory in 2017 from the program, which breaks down to about $1,500 for each of the town’s year-round residents. The next closest is Laurel, which acquired more than $1.6 million worth of equipment, spending $370 per resident.
Bauer said the information is unfair and doesn’t account for Dewey’s population explosion during the summer.
“Dewey Beach is realistically not a small, 300-resident town,” he said. “Would the graphs look different if you took into account the 30,000 visitors/renters each weekend?”
During the council presentation, Bauer said as recently as August 2017, Dewey’s police department had undergone an audit by the federal government to make sure each piece of equipment was accounted for.
The citizens’ report says every two years 25 percent of the non-controlled equipment is audited. Most of the items in question are noncontrolled and are not audited by the federal of state governments, states the report.
In Delaware, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency conducts the state-level audits.
DEMA Director AJ Schall declined to comment on most of the citizens’ report, but he confirmed the numbers used by the group related specifically to the federal surplus program. He said the 25 percent inspection of noncontrolled items during an audit is the baseline, but in Delaware, a higher percentage of items is audited because the state is so small. He said he would let the graphs speak for themselves.
The citizens report questions whether the Dewey police department should use surplus equipment to participate in search-and-rescue services provided by state agencies and neighboring towns.
Schall also said the report appears to be splitting hairs with the wording associated with the usage definition. He said every law enforcement agency could be called on to do search-and-rescue missions.
Smith said surplus items from the program have begun magically showing back up in town, and he said the town has recently begun storing some of the equipment in an undisclosed location.
In addition to items being stored at the police station, town hall and the life saving station, Bauer confirmed some of the equipment is being stored in Lewes.
“We cannot disclose the exact location due to security,” he said. “The cost of the gated lot is $1 per year for 2 years, and we have insured the property.”
Mayor TJ Redefer said he agrees 100 percent with Smith’s goal for accountability and transparency, but he said, the slick report and website are not fair or accurate. He said the report does more to divide the town than it does to help heal.
“I’m all about building bridges and working together,” he wrote in a Feb. 1 email, “but Mr. Smith’s group and his site does not offer membership, or even a list of who is in the group. Bottom line, we agree on the big issue, and perhaps one day we can work together to build a better [Dewey Beach].”