The Dewey Beach Police Department is understaffed, underpaid, housed in a poorly designed and inadequate facility, and has low morale, according to an organizational analysis commissioned by the town Jan. 21.
The report calling for immediate action specifically noted concerns about the effectiveness of the police chief and management practices, noting a lack of discipline and corrective action. The report also cites the police station has mold and air-quality issues, and insufficient space for prisoners.
Dated June 30, the 29-page report posted on the town website July 26 was conducted by retired Delaware State Police Capt. Gregory Warren, who wrote his findings require “the immediate attention of the town, if it intends on ensuring the police department can continue to provide the town with the police services it both expects and deserves.”
Major findings were understaffing; an unacceptable facility; a lack of trust between the department, certain town officials and employees; the need for a strategic plan and updated policy manual; a desire for training and advancement opportunities; low salaries; and need for an updated performance appraisal method.
Warren stated funding appears to be in place to sustain a full-time department. He said more officers would allow for at least two regular evening patrol units, create a more efficient chain of command and increase officer morale.
The report found the police chief should immediately request a new station feasibility study and should in the interim request an emergency solicitation of bids to address basic security issues at the “woefully inadequate” station.
“The current station does not only not meet any national or state accreditation standards, but has too many issues to almost address,” Warren wrote.
Warren stated the station has air-quality and mold issues, no storage for evidence or equipment, no room for legal separation of female/male and juvenile/adult prisoners, and no decontamination shower or eye wash station. Further, the report states, suspects held on the second floor can view officer computer screens and hear everything.
While Warren found the general public is satisfied with department services, he stated recent personality conflicts and political issues among town and elected officials and the department have been a huge distraction.
“Trust levels at this time are stretched almost beyond description,” Warren wrote. “This has subsequently caused morale to worsen even so.”
Warren cited concerns about the effectiveness of the police chief and management practices. He recommended the chief host public meetings and focus groups, and said the department should expand community outreach to form closer relationships with residents and visitors.
Further, the report noted an apparent avoidance of discipline or corrective action within the department.
“This can become a concern for obvious reasons because circumventing the policies and/or procedures in place may become the norm and part of the corporate culture of the organization if left unchecked,” Warren wrote.
A strategic plan should be drafted to meet town goals and objectives, which should be reflected in officers’ annual performance reviews, stated Warren, who noted the chief should develop additional training requested by officers. The department’s policy manual, Warren wrote, appears to have been pieced together from other documents and not updated for more than 10 years.
Commissioners made the first step in addressing the report’s recommendations by voting unanimously to increase police officer wages July 29.
Town Manager Scott Koenig said the commissioners’ Aug. 9 agenda calls for a possible vote to hire Warren to update the police department’s policy manual.
“They will also discuss priorities for follow-up on the report,” Koenig said. “I have also included a proposal from Dr. Warren for de-escalation training. This training can be approved without a vote of the commissioners since the cost is less than $2,000.”
Warren’s de-escalation training proposal, at $1,140, states it will provide officers with skills to interact and intervene with the public with limited or no use of force.
To prepare the analysis, Warren visited the police department; interviewed officers, residents and business owners; analyzed reports and other data; reviewed the policy manual and performance appraisal procedure; conducted demographic research and a news media search; and analyzed pending litigation.
Dewey police spokesperson Sgt. Cliff Dempsey could not be reached for comment.
Mayor TJ Redefer said he was proud to get the review done.
“I credit Commissioner Dale Cooke, who made sure we had the money to get the study completed,” Redefer said. “Now, it is time to bring the people and stakeholders of Dewey Beach together to decide what our 21st century police department will look like. This is an exciting time in Dewey Beach history, and I am proud that all the commissioners agreed to take the first steps to assure that all of our officers will be paid more appropriately.”