State police are reporting some success in addressing the most common crimes in Sussex County — burglary and theft — as well as preventing motor-vehicle accidents, according to Delaware State Police Capt. Rodney M. Layfield, commander of Troop 4 in Georgetown, who discussed local trends in crime in an update to the Sussex County Council at its June 28 meeting.
Layfield said there are 92 troopers assigned to Troop 4, and that the troop itself is unique, in that it not only has its patrol element but county-wide criminal investigative operations are based there.
He said that through a new program called SPEAR (State Police Enhanced Analytical Response), troopers are able to archive data, as well as create real-time data, and the core crimes seen in Troop 4’s coverage area are burglaries and thefts.
“Every day, we’re doing a daily report and putting it out to our troopers — what we would like them to do and where we would like them to go,” said Layfield. “We’re more direct — not just what happened, but what happened and what are we going to do about it.”
Weekly and monthly reports are given to Layfield’s executive staff, with the goal of being more proactive in targeting areas in need of additional troopers.
“For instance, troopers are regularly seen on Route 113 between Georgetown and Millsboro,” he said, noting research data helps the Troop target specific areas. “We strategically put troopers there when we’re having peak a number of accidents. Typically, 2 o’clock in the afternoon to 6 o’clock in the evening is when we’re having accidents. That’s the daily commute, people coming home. We’re putting troopers out there to be seen, to deter accidents, and we’re seeing some success in that.”
Layfield said one criminal hotspot is on Route 24, in the Oak Orchard area. Using five investigative steps, troopers are working toward reducing crime in that area, and again seeing some success, he said.
To this same point in 2015, 34 burglaries had been reported in the Oak Orchard area, said Layfield. Year-to-date in 2016, there have been 19 burglaries.
“That’s a 45 percent reduction in just burglaries alone,” he said, adding, “We have a 50 percent clearance rate for burglaries... The national average is 13.6 percent on clearances of burglaries.”
Layfield said crime is predominantly being driven by drugs.
“Specifically, our drug problem is heroin. We’re doing the best we can as law enforcement,” he said. “We are finding hard data that our perpetrators on these crimes are heroin users and abusers. Over 70 percent have a drug arrest history, and I would say pushing 90 percent have a drug problem.”
The troop is also taking a proactive approach to addressing DUIs in its coverage area. Layfield said that, last year, almost 34 percent of accidents were attributed to DUI. This year, it is currently below 14 percent.
“We’re out there proactively stopping them,” he said.
Community outreach is a big priority statewide for the DSP, an effort driven by Superintendent Col. Nathaniel McQueen Jr. Layfield said there are 10 troopers throughout the county with the sole task of working on community outreach, attending community meetings, helping facilitate community watches and more.
“We’re doing what we can to do for our community,” he said.
Sign ordinance discussion continues
Also on June 28, the council revisited topics related to its proposed signage ordinance. The ordinance, introduced in April, came after months of working-group meetings, council discussions and public hearings.
Since its introduction, many have voiced concerns about the draft ordinance, some saying it did not reflect the months of hard work put out by the working group the County had assembled on the issue.
That has included Georgetown attorney David Hutt of Morris, James, Wilson, Halbrook & Bayard LLP, who spoke at the public hearings on behalf of Clear Channel Outdoor, Geyer Signs, Hocker Signs, Jack Lingo Realtors, J.D. Sign Company, Ocean Atlantic, Phillips Signs Inc., Premier Outdoor Media LLC, Rogers Sign Co. Inc. and Timmons Outdoor Advertising, and presented the council with an alternate ordinance that he said was more representative of the working group’s recommendations.
Since then, the council has been taking a step-by-step approach to address each issue — looking at what is written in the proposed ordinance, in Hutt’s alternate ordinance and what was recommended by the Planning & Zoning Commission.
Although V-signs were discussed last week, the council will continue to ponder the greatest angle to which a sign may be constructed. While Councilman George Cole said last week that he would be agreeable to 60 degrees, this week, Council President Michael Vincent asked, “What’s wrong with 90 degrees?”
The council’s concern was that the two signs would be used as one large sign for a business, rather than two separate and distinct advertisements. Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson told the council, following an inquiry by Councilman Rob Arlett, that it would be better for council to not specifically state that within the Code, as it would not only create an enforcement issue but would get into sign content as well.
The council agreed to revisit the topic at a later date.
Cole again pressed the council that off-premises electronic message centers/billboards not be permitted on two-lane roads within the county.
“We have some bad examples out there of electronic signs. I would like to put an end to it, and that would be easy to enforce,” he said.
“Hideous, hideous,” added Councilwoman Joan Deaver of the signs.
While Vincent said he understood Cole’s position and agrees that the signs shouldn’t be “out in the middle of a very rural area,” he said there are some areas in the county where such signs wouldn’t necessarily be out of place.
“I’m not sure I can go along with you,” he said, calling attention to Route 13-A and Route 404. “Those are not what I call rural roads. There’s more traffic on 404 than there is in 90 percent of this county.”
“In my mind, I think there should be a balance of sorts,” added Arlett, who went on to ask, “Why mandate this?”
“Because we can,” responded Cole.
“It doesn’t mean we should,” said Arlett.
Assistant County Attorney Vince Robertson asked the council to keep in mind that billboards are only permitted on commercially-zoned property within the county. No decision was made on Cole’s recommendation.
Vincent said that, although the council is off from its regular Tuesday meetings for the next two weeks, he had directed staff to find a date for a special meeting specifically for signs, so as to, hopefully, address everything before the moratorium for off-premises sign moratorium expires on Aug. 15.
In other County news:
• Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commissioner Michael Johnson has submitted a letter to the council, announcing he will be stepping down from his seat later this summer, to focus his efforts on his business.
• P&Z Chairman Robert Wheatley was unanimously reappointed to the commission for another three-year term.
• E. Brent Workman was unanimously reappointed to his position on the Sussex County Board of Adjustment for another three-year term.