Ocean View Police Chief Kenneth McLaughlin recently earned Delaware League of Local Governments (DLLG) recognition, at an annual awards ceremony on Sept. 18.
In light of a glowing recommendation from Ocean View Town Council, the DLLG named McLaughlin as Municipal Police Chief of the Year.
“It’s well-deserved,” said Mayor Gary Meredith, characterizing McLaughlin as hard-working and enthusiastic. “We’re happy, and lucky, to have him.”
Originally from Baltimore, McLaughlin comes from a family of police officers — his grandfather and uncle worked for the Baltimore City Police Department, and his brother serves with the Baltimore County Police Department.
McLaughlin said his father had worked with the railroad police for a time, but had eventually become a newspaperman, at the Sun and then the News American. He said he’d basically lived at the newspaper offices, and became a big news buff early in life.
And he remembered his grandfather’s accounts of the Baltimore riots of the mid-1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement. By the time high school aptitude testing suggested a best fit with either law enforcement or the military, he’d already developed an interest in the former.
He actually met his wife-to-be prior to entering law enforcement, while working at the Carousel Hotel in Ocean City, Md., in the mid-1980s (the McLaughlins married in 1988, and have three children).
They moved to Ocean City, and McLaughlin got his feet wet as a seasonal officer with the Ocean City Police Department, and then went through the Corrections Academy en route a very short stint at the Delaware Correctional Center, in Smyrna.
He recounted some unspeakably gritty scenes from those five or six months, and soon renewed his search for work outside the institution. McLaughlin picked up a part-time position with the Selbyville Police Department in 1989, and by 1990 had graduated the Delaware Police Academy and become a full-time officer.
Those were busy times for Selbyville, he recalled — crack cocaine use had become something of an epidemic, especially around the “Pigpen” and “Pepper Town” neighborhoods.
He noted the manner in which people addicted to crack came to live for nothing else. Even more so than alcoholism or various other varieties of drug use, he said the addiction came more quickly, and with a more powerful grip. And crack use especially hampered people’s ability to hold jobs — perpetuating the situation. “It’s a bad one,” McLaughlin noted.
“I think the law enforcement was pretty successful in busting things up, dispersing people,” he said. “No doubt, some of those people are still out there, but at least we were able to shut down the open-air drug markets.”
McLaughlin eventually moved on to the Bethany Beach Police Department, in 1996, and then joined Ocean View as chief, in 2001.
Since then, he’s initiated a community-wide Civilian Auxiliary Patrol (CAP) program, based on a model he’d seen supporting the Indian River County Sheriff’s Department, in Florida.
There, he said the CAP program had become so advanced, there was even one older gentleman, a retired chemist or pharmacist, McLaughlin said, who’d been working with the department’s evidence detection unit (think CSI) so long they’d started to dispatch him to crime scenes by himself.
“We’re always a little short-handed, so this is a great way for us to find a little help,” he said. Little more than a year old, Ocean View’s CAP already has more than 20 active members, all trained in traffic control, basic life support, CPR, use of Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) and emergency preparedness (through Certified Emergency Response Team, or CERT, training).
And McLaughlin has been working toward an Ocean View Police Department for the future. The existing police station is housed in what used to be town hall — a rather cramped, 800-square-foot building, where visitors often find themselves in rather awkwardly mixed company, with prisoners.
McLaughlin said the town had given him the mandate to plan for the future, and he’s done that. The proposed, nearly $4 million police department will be vast by comparison, with room to accommodate a growing area population (and associated increased demands on public service) for the next 40 or 50 years.
He’s toured various police facilities in the region, noting the good and bad in each design, studied the standards and, despite occasional criticism suggesting the proposed police station is too much, too big, McLaughlin’s held to the original game plan.
And in the meantime, he continues to press council for additional staff, always with an eye toward extra backup — especially for those one or two times in the year when something really big happens, and the officers on duty might face a delay in getting back to a second or third call.
Looking back over his career to date, McLaughlin said most young officers would respond they’d chosen law enforcement out of a desire to help people.
That was definitely a part of it, he pointed out — but to elaborate, he said it was an exciting job, constantly finding oneself in all kinds of different situations and trying to find the best ways to handle them.
“It’s a rewarding, satisfying profession,” he said. “You’re in a position where you can do something, help solve problems. This is not just, lock them up and throw away the key –there’s a lot we can do to help folks.
“From the time you step in through the front door, as the youngest officer in the department, you can have a negative or positive outcome on people’s lives,” McLaughlin emphasized. “And you just have to always seek the positive. It’s impossible to do it every time, but for the most part, you can. And that’s where I’d attribute any success.”