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Dewey to record police phone line, radio transmissions

Town manager: Recordings will help resolve cases, complaints
December 16, 2019

Dewey Beach commissioners voted 4-1 Dec. 7 to approve recording police department non-emergency telephone lines and radio transmissions.

Commissioner Paul Bauer was the lone vote against the $14,000 service that will be funded from proceeds of September’s military surplus equipment auction.

“I’m not against recording the lines,” he said. “But in one breath, we’re saying we have a deficit, and the other says, hey, let’s spend $14,000.”

At first, Commissioner Dale Cooke said he was also not in favor of the expense. Then, he asked Town Manager Scott Koenig for his recommendation.

“Reluctantly, I think we need to spend this money because it helps us, to be quite honest,” Koenig said.

Koenig said he surveyed municipalities that record non-emergency lines and found that when lines are recorded, employees maintain a professional demeanor. Calls are time- and date-stamped so they are easy to locate if needed, he said, can record evidence and interviews, and can be reviewed in the case of complaints. 

Koenig said one municipality told him, “A good recording system is like insurance. You may never need it, but when you do, it’s worth every cent.”

The one negative, Koenig said, was managing storage, which he said is easier to do now than five years ago, and in the future, would likely be stored in the cloud. 

Koenig said the service would record not only non-emergency phone lines, which he said residents did call during emergencies, but also radio transmissions between officers.

Mayor TJ Redefer said public comment has shown there is public interest in recording the lines, and asked Town Counsel Fred Townsend if call transcripts could be requested through the Freedom of Information Act. 

“I’m sure this will be a constant source of FOIA attention,” Townsend said. “Not every claim of incompetence that is made against the town is made with merit, so I think what you’re going to find is that use of that information will make its way into different complaints and concerns that may or may not have merit, and you’ll have to contend with them if you go down this road.”

Commissioner Gary Persinger said FOIA was not cited as an issue by municipalities that were surveyed; Commissioner David Moskowitz said the police chief and lieutenant could review recordings for quality control. 

Koenig said recordings may help defend meritless claims against town employees.

“I fully expect, based on this community, that we will get FOIA requests,” Koenig said. “The good news is, we’ll know exactly what is said. That’s the bottom line.”