Ask A Cop

Sussex County Online User Forums: Sussex County Delaware Discussion Forum: Ask A Cop
By Senior Corporal Lev Ellian, PIO, South Bethany Police on Monday, March 03, 2003 - 07:13 pm:

I would like to open a forum for the purpose of allowing the public to communicate online with local police officers ... questions, comments or concerns ...

Does this sound like something worthwhile?

By twilliams on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 - 03:45 pm:

Absolutely.

I have a few questions for you and any LEO in Sussex County.

FIPD has seen alot of attention lately. One issue was staffing. What is the biggest problem with officer retention in municipalities?

Is the concept of a County Police agency, either via the Sheriff or a new start up agency, needed?

What is the biggest problem facing local PD's right now?

By Senior Corporal Lev Ellian, PIO, South Bethany Police on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 - 07:49 pm:

Thanks for your questions.

I have been working for Delaware law enforcement agencies since 1987, starting off in seasonal positions. In 1991, I was hired by the SBP and have been there ever since. When I started with the SBP, the state mandated minimum salary for police officers was only $16,500. That's correct ... only $16,500 .. and that was just in 1991. Today, the minimum starting salary is only in the low to mid 20K range. So, there has been little increase in the last decade.

Many town governments use police enforcement (primarily traffic tickets) as a major source of revenue. They forecast revenue for inclusion in the annual budgets. Therefore, pressure is normally applied to the chief's of police if revenue is "not up to par", so to speak. In turn, this presssure is then directed at the working police officers. The pressure is applied in the forms of evaluations tainted or weighed towards traffic ticket production; low or no raises for officers that produce low number of TRAFFIC tickets; and other related tactics used to promote ticket production. This is all due to the fact that towns receive the BASE FINE for every traffic ticket written by its police department. You do the math ...

In time, most officers become tired of gluing their eyes on the RADAR and not being rewarded for making good criminal arrests. They frequently leave to move on to larger departments in and out of state. So, towns hire NEW officers at lower or minimum salaraies to replace the ones that leave.

As a result, when town police department overall salaries are compared and evaluated by local government, smaller salaries appear to be in order. Naturally, the towns then offer less to work for them, but the revenue demands remain the same. It's a vicious cycle that has been remedied little over time.

Salaries in Delaware play a big role in poor retention, but benefits are lacking as well. For example, many local police agencies are in the process of joining the state pension plan. Unfortunately, the intial costs can be overwhelming, and most towns are not willing to provide funding. In the case of every beach resort town in Sussex, funding is always available, but rarely spent. For example, in my department, the Chief of Police has saved the towns hundreds of thousands of dollars by applying for, and obtaining, grant funding. These grants were used to fund the purchase of BASIC police equipment required to have ANY police department in operation; vehicle equipment, computers, firearms, uniforms, vests, badges .. the list goes on for many years. Since most towns do not fully cover basic police operating expesnes, they certainly do not fund good pension plans.

The concept regarding a county police agency has mixed feelings among police departments. The biggest critic of a county force is, of course, the Delaware State Police. They have long politic'd their way around the state, and continue to do so in efforts to keep their jurisdiction to the fullest. Unfortunately, residents in rural and unincorporated areas suffer from having fewer officers on the streets. I live in Sussex County outside of any incorporated town. I share the feelings of most county residents regarding insufficient police coverage and patrol. In defense of the troopers on the road, they are run ragged from one call to the next, completely understaffed. HOWEVER, I am still confused to this day why Sussex County has paid a STATE AGENCY hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for troopers in Sussex. That is a whole other story ...

Personally, I feel the facts are that Sussex can easily fund a county police force ... by using money given to the state police, 911 funding, property transfer taxes (such as is done for volunteer fire companies), and using the EXISTING county law enforcement agency, the Susex County Sheriff's Office. in order for sheriff's deputies to have full police authority in Delaware, all that is needed is the simple inclusion of the words Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff in the definition of law enforcement officer (peace officer) under Delaware law.

There are too many problems facing Delaware law enforcement today. To name the biggest would leave out the many small problems that hinder us day to day. Food for thought, however, is a poor and inadequate statewide radio system, and lack of sufficient mutual aid agreements between towns. Existing mutual aid agreements leave too much open for civil liability on the police departments for doing their job.

I have questioned several law enforcement adminstrators and politicians over the years as to why we do not have any "townships" or combined township police agencies in this state. It is done in Pennsylvania and other states. Combining police departmens, resources and juridictions provides better coverage and protection for county residents. It is also a viable means of avoiding costs for establishing the inevitable county police agency.

By BridgevilleResident on Wednesday, March 05, 2003 - 01:53 am:

SC Ellian,

Thank you for that very informative posting. I come from a state with County, Town and State policing. I have noticed, since moving here, that response times lag, the 911 system seems to be adequate at best, and that most citizens only see police when they are either in town or on the highway. I understand that there is no county force here, and that the DSP is spread very thin. What I would like to know is 1) If there is any kind of Federal funding available for Law Enforcement, i.e. grants, funding under the new Homeland Security Act or through the DOJ for education and basic needs. How about through an increase in property taxes and State Income tax? They tax those of us who have no children to go to school for school taxes, why not tax us for Police agencies for which we ALL have a need? Doesnt that make sense?
2) Isnt it possible to raise the base fines for tickets, insuring that the town revenue would increase?
I have friends in many departments in Sussex, and know a few who have had to buy thier own equipment, such as vests just to be protected. I find this to be pitiful and dangerous. It seems to me that Gov Minner should be looking out for those who look out for her. She has made many mistakes in her term as Gov, isnt it about time she tried to make positive changes? Though I am not a smoker, I would like to see the ban remodeled to exclude bars and clubs and casinos. I have seen too much of the destruction of business this has caused in Sussex.. and how does she think this is going to affect her cash cow, summer tourism? Why would smoking tourists stay here, where they legally cannot smoke even on the boardwalk, and not instead just glide on down Rt 1 to Ocean City? Perhaps we can in fact raise some more funds to better take care of the officers who put thier lives on the line to protect us. After all, what is another $50 per year, per person going to hurt? It wont even be noticed.

By Senior Corporal Lev Ellian, PIO, South Bethany Police on Wednesday, March 05, 2003 - 10:04 pm:

BridgevilleResident,

Thank you for your reply and questions.

I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, so I am used to having county police and fire-rescue services as well.

Response times can be long in Sussex, especially rural areas in the county. As you stated, DSP has troopers stretched thin. According to Delaware laws regarding the state police, section 8301 states that "there shall not be more than 700, nor less than 580" state troopers "on full active duty". In other words, there does not need to be 580 - 700 uniformed troopers on patrol. The DSP administration decides how many of those 580 - 700 actually patrol and answer calls for service.
The same statute was changed in recent years. It used to read that troopers primary job was to enforce traffic laws on highways throughout the state.

Although Delaware is a small state, Sussex County is one of the largest counties on the East Coast of the United States. As the population grows, so does the necessity for more police. The equation for police administration used to be formulated at one cop for every thousand citizens. I don't know if that has changed.

There is both federal and state funding available for police agencies in Delaware. COPS federal funding is mainyl used to create funding for new police officers. COPS funding allows police departments to hire new cops and then have the towns/cities abosrb the full cost over a period of time. Grant funding has provided my agency with technology funds, equipment and uniform funds, vehicle equipment funds, to name a few. In my time in South Bethany, the town has saved over $200,000 due to grant funding. There is also a federal grant that provides police officers with money to purchase bullet resistant vests.
The Delaware Office of Highway Safety has a program that provides video cameras to police agencies free of charge. They are mounted and used in police cruisers on the street. Every patrol cruiser in my PD has one in use.
Although it is not at all reliable or safe, the state and county assisted police and fire-rescue/EMS departments purchase new radios for the statewide public safety radio system. That is a whole other story that has been reported in the media. Just examples of what's out there, but it is up to the individuals towns and police administrators to locate and apply for grant funding.

Base fines and court costs for tickets are amended and increased regularly. Unfortunately, this does not benefit either the police officer on the street or the offender cited for a traffic infraction. Because many towns abuse the existing resource of revenue generated from police enforcement, an increase in fines will only lead to further corruption and unethical budgetary processes. I have suggested to politicians in the past that a new system be researched and evaluated. For example, many states colelct the entire fine and distribute them to local government departments based upon enforcement efforts and funding needs.

I would like to see many changes in Delaware law enforcement. However, these changes must start at the legislative level.

I, along with every other cop out here, thanks you for your continued support.

By sussex lawdog on Thursday, March 06, 2003 - 06:18 am:

What is going on with county police department? I believe if they had a county police department with reasonable pay and benifits. I believe many certified officers would jump ship and work there. I know I would. I am tired of doing assist another agency reports for assisting DSP. When I am the first one there for the cal

By Senior Corporal Lev Ellian, PIO, South Bethany Police on Thursday, March 06, 2003 - 07:35 pm:

As sussex lawdog states, we run many calls assisting DSP. In some cases, local PD's handle the calls. In other cases, we stand by and wait for a DSP unit to respond to the scene to handle the paperwork. Sometimes we are the only backup available in the area.

I find it a tremendous benefit to have so many agencies working together in the southeastern part of the county (I'm sure it's the same throughout the county). The South Bethany Police works very closely with Bethany Beach, Ocean View and Fenwick Island PD's. In many cases, officers respond on their own to back up neighboring officers. This is common when the dispatch center does not send an assisting unit. It's a very different policing world than what is occurring in neighboring states. Local PD's provide excellent services not only within their towns, but outside their jurisdictions as well.

By PizzedinBridgeville on Thursday, March 06, 2003 - 09:54 pm:

Cpl Ellian,

It is a good point you have brought up here about interdepartmental assistance and cooperation. The only department that seems to have issues with "Sharing" seems to be the DSP. They work to block as much territory from the locals as is possible, in order to recieve a larger piece of the fiscal pie, yet the cry and whine about not having enough coverage with present officers. Are they so blind that they cannot see they are causing this all by theirselves? Where I come from, we have local municipal, county and state agencies. They all work together to provide protection and service to EVERYONE equally. You see, they are more concerned with solving the problems than they are with who's territory it is and who's there only to provide backup to the other. Perhaps if we had our Sussex county Sheriff's dept up and running as it should be, and as it is written in the state constitution, we would actually be able to provide good coverage of the county and good police service to its residents. Why is Sussex county spending all this money to "Hire" the DSP to patrol when we already pay for that in our state taxes. Ever wonder why it is that DSP says they are going to use the money to hire more officers to work the area.. and they do. What they dont mention is that they ship off the same number of people ALREADY in Sussex to other areas and other specialty areas of the DSP, REPLACING them with new officers. Where is the gain for Sussex.. we just paid twice for the same thing.

By Senior Corporal Lev Ellian, PIO, South Bethany Police on Saturday, March 08, 2003 - 09:20 pm:

PizzedinBridgeville,

I agree that the county should not be funding a state agency. This has been a long-running practice and is no doubt tainted with bad politics. The big part of this problem is that the general public is unaware of the facts. Maybe a bulk mailing campaign or petition is in order to address the issue.

There are a lot of excellent troopers on the road that suffer under the current DSP system. I know they are hoping for an improvement just as we are.

On a lighter note, I find it ironic that I pay my county taxes, get paid by my own agency to work, and then handle calls in and for DSP. In essence, I pay my own salary in part.

By Senior Corporal Lev Ellian, PIO, South Bethany Police on Monday, March 10, 2003 - 01:34 pm:

Town governments receive the base fine from every traffic ticket written by their police department. They also get the fine money from local code violations and parking tickets issued by police.

This practice has caused local government corruption for years, and more recently political controversy. It is a major ethical issue in Delaware today. Senator Sharp submitted a bill recently imposing the restriction of RADAR use by town police along certain major roads. There has been no formal resolution of that bill to date.

The bottom line is that town councils put pressure on police departments to generate revenue. The original idea behind traffic enforcement is for SAFETY reasons (reduction of accidents, pedestrian safety, etc). The idea of safety has long been ignored, and the idea of financial gain and budgets has taken its place.

I feel that I can speak for every cop out here that disagrees with this practice. How does the general public feel? Should the money from traffic tickets go directly to the state instead of the town bank accounts? One option that hasn't been evaluated in Delaware is the state distributing funds annually to towns based upon their ENFORCEMENT EFFORTS and FUNDING NEEDS. What other options are out there? Are you willing to lobby your local politicians and government for a change?

Before you decide, here's the math:

I write someone a ticket for speeding -- driving 15 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. The total fine is $57.30 if you're wearing your seat belt (if you're not seat-belted, then it's $71.30). Of that total fine, my town gets the base fine of $35.00. That's more than half the total fine. The State of Delaware gets the rest.

Check out the SBP web site Traffic Violations page at http://hometown.aol.com/SBPWEB/trafficviolations.html for more details.

By Eric Magill on Monday, March 10, 2003 - 06:13 pm:

Sr. Cpl. Ellian:
I won't speak for other towns in Sussex County, but as a member of Ocean View Town Council, I can tell you that the Town of Ocean View does not pressure its police officers to write tickets to help balance the budget.

Fines are a small part of our budget. In our long-range financial plan, we only expect money from fines to grow 5 percent a year, even though we have doubled the size of the force in the past two years and expect the town to grow by nearly 10 percent a year for the next five years.

Through the year 2009, we expect fines to amount to only 5 to 6 percent of our total revenue each year, and that doesn't include revenue we receive from our real estate transfer tax, which can be used for public safety expenses.

We are currently working on our FY2004 budget, and public safety fines are estimated at $44,500 of $746,550 in revenue, or 5.9 percent. By 2009, we expect fines to account for $56,795 of our $1.121 million in revenue, or 5 percent.

Further, fines won't even come close to covering our police department budget, which is expected to rise from $574,060 to $864,191 from FY2004 to FY2009. As you can see, our estimated fines won't cover even 10 percent of our anticipated public safety budget.

I believe if you asked our chief, Ken McLaughlin, he would tell you we hardly even mention revenue from fines in our budget and long-range financial planning meetings because the number is insignificant compared to other income-producers such as property taxes and building permits, and because our council members have no interest in balancing our budget through tickets.

As for Sen. Sharp's bill, that wasn't a reaction to rampant corruption throughout the state. If memory serves, it was, instead, a reaction to a friend or constituent being upset about receiving a speeding ticket from a Frederica cop -- on U.S. 13 in Frederica.

Eric Magill
Ocean View Town Council

By Lev Ellian on Monday, March 10, 2003 - 10:32 pm:

Eric,

Your council represents the largest and fastest growing incorporated town in this area. Ocean View is a strong local government that should be used as a guide and resource for other area towns.

Unfortunately, many Delaware towns do not operate with such high ethics or principles as the town of Ocean View. It is fact that my own department has been challenged or threatened due to revenue issues (for example, lower raises for police personnel). Some of those instances have been documented during the twelve years that I have been working here.

Our operating budget has grown over the last decade, but not significantly. Forcasted police revenue from magistrate fines has been as high as $120,000 in South Bethany, which at the time was approximately half of the operating budget for the PD. The FY 2002-2003 forcasted budget for the SBP was $70,000 from magistrate fines, $8,600 from parking ticket fines, technology grant funding of $2,500, SALLE grant funding of $5,600, police pension state contributions $13,000. That's a total of $99,700 of a $377,116 public safety budget that South Bethany taxpayers will never have to pay ... and that's WELL down from previous budget years. Our budget NOW is only between $250k - $300k for 24 hour police services, so it has not increased much over time. That includes salaries for six full-time police officers. If it were not for the Chief of Police applying for, and receiving, over $200,000 in grant funding over the last decade, the South Bethany Police would not have the equipment it has now, or be able to operate efficiently. Grant funding has even covered the costs of BASIC necessities required for general police operations: uniforms, firearms, computers, emergency lights, office furniture, business machines ... the list goes on and on. The town is quick to spend thousands of dollars of beautification and landscaping projects, but the police department is forced to seek grant funding to buy officers bullet resistant vests.

As a sidebar note, The town of South Bethany received $4,289.50 in traffic ticket fines in January 2003 alone.

Last year, South Bethany police officers received only a 2% raise. That almost covered the cost of living increase. This year, it is rumored that we will suffer an equal or lesser raise in addition to other cuts in benefits. I don't know the budget figures for this coming year, but they will be out soon as May 1 begins the new fiscal year. The forcasted police budget will, as always, be interesting to review.

Senator Sharp's bill, as you said, was triggered by the arrest of a friend or associate in Frederica. However, inquiries by media (such as the News Journal) uncovered that many local towns were receiving high revenue from police-generated fines, and using those monies to fund a large portion (or majority) of police operating expenses. One town, Greenwood, offered its officers unlimited overtime to conduct traffic enforcement. Obviously, they made a profit from its police force. The intent behind Sharp's bill was to curb the revenue generated by police, in turn forcing towns to better manage revenue and their budget processes.

The bottom line is that many of our Delaware towns operate similar to a business, not as a government. Although there are similarities in the two budget processes, government does not exist to make a profit. Government using or depending on its police to generate EXCESSIVE revenue to cover operating expenses is unethical. When the focus of revenue outweighs the issues of public safety, it should be of great concern. It becomes corrupt when measures are taken or threatened against the police for failing to bring in the cash crop.

Lev

By Harry Sachs on Tuesday, March 11, 2003 - 07:23 pm:

I personally do not see anything wrong with municipal police collecting fines on highways within their own Town Limits. However, I do see a tremendous problem with the pressure they are put under to collect that revenue. On that end, I do agree with Sen Sharps bill. I agree with Ofc. Ellian that they seem to run more like a business than a Government. Human greed once again takes its toll. Safety should always be first, whether it is public safety or the safety of the Officers protecting us. I would like to see all of the Councils of these towns follow the lead of SBP and apply for these grants, if for nothing else but to better equip the officers.
Mr Magill,
As a resident of the well plagued Fenwick Island, I must say that I admire your council and the job it has done for the town. I only pray that with a changing of the guard in the PD and with a full sweep of the present Council, we can restructure and begin to make this town what it deserves to be. Your Council is a good model, if only we could get ours to stop fighting and bickering with each other long enough to take a look at how it is SUPPOSED to be done..

By Ashley Denningham on Sunday, May 02, 2004 - 07:19 pm:

I just moved here, and had no idea all of this was occuring. I have a question about another matter entirely. How are police cars sold once the departments are done with them? LOVE the Interceptor and want one to get to college. They're safe, reliable, maneuverable, comfy, etc., etc. THANK YOU!!!!
Ashley

By Lev Ellian on Thursday, September 30, 2004 - 10:18 pm:

Ashley,

Sorry for the late reply ... I haven't been a "local" in some time ...

Most police vehicles are "deadlined" (taken out of service) after reaching high mileage. Usually around 100,000 miles. Although these cars are USUALLY maintained rather well through preventative maintenance programs, they're still worn out. Most of these cars are either sold at public auction or sold by bid from local and state governments. You can also find a ton of used police cars online at places like eBay.
Just remember that although these cars have factory "police performance" packages, they don't always drive better and don't offer increased safety just because they were once police vehicles. Make sure you check out the car and its history before you buy!

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