Details begin to emerge in Millville-DSP agreement

On April 13, Millville Mayor Gerald “Gerry” Hocker Jr. announced that the town would be “entering into a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby the Delaware State Police personnel from Troop 4 will utilize space in the Millville town hall for a state police community office.”

“We’re at the very, very beginning steps about the long-term advantage to the whole entire community,” said Hocker. “The agreement with the state police – they are very excited to have a satellite office down this way. It’s not intended to be a police station. It’s intended to be a place where they can stop and meet and interview people, and take care of some office work. “

Talks with the state police began in February, after they toured the facility with the Millville Volunteers. Town Manager Debbie Botchie has kept in contact with them since and was recently told that the DSP was given the green light by their legal counsel, Deputy Attorney General Michael Tupman.

Millville Town Hall, which recently opened its new 2,900-square-foot addition – designed to be an emergency communication center – now also has a 1,456-square-foot space upstairs that is expected to be used by the DSP.

The town’s plans called for the new addition to be built with reinforced concrete block walls and impact resistant windows, and it was designed to withstand gale-force winds up to 120 mph. It is also provides an 80 kw generator for backup power, and the upper level has a full kitchen and two full baths to accommodate its use in an emergency.

The DSP will have access to the upstairs through the outdoor stair entrance. The upstairs will also be stocked with handheld radios, an air compressor and air mattresses, paid for with funds from a DEMA grant awarded to the Millville Volunteers. The state police have requested that they be provided with a desk, a computer for law enforcement use only and a flat-screen television.

In exchange, Millville – and other nearby residents – will gain more convenient access to DSP troopers and a greater likelihood that they’ll be available to respond quickly when needed.

“Oftentimes you have complaints, you ride on the complaint and you’re miles away from the troop,” explained Cpl. Bruce Harris of the DSP. “Instead of having to respond back to the troop, we’re going to be able to stop into this facility and conduct police work. I think also, what the preliminary plans are – we also have a community outreach officer who will have crime-watch type meetings, community meetings there, as well with those in the community.”

As part of forward-thinking efforts toward perhaps someday forming its own police department, the town has built up a $1.2 million fund earmarked for public safety, which they will be using to purchase the requested materials, as well as pay for utilities.

“It’s going to last us a whole lot longer than developing our own police department, paying salaries, health insurance, retirement benefits… It’s a no-brainer,” said Botchie. “This council is in agreement that whatever we have to do to equip them in this building, we’re going to do so, because their budget is short, as well.”

“It’ll be good to have a police presence,” said Town Solicitor Seth Thompson. “Seemingly, that’s why they had the contract with the state police in the past. Hopefully, this is a good way to handle that without adding a full police force and the costs that go with that.”

Botchie pointed out that the town would not be paying the state police for their service under the agreement, as the arrangement will be an exchange — Millville town hall space for added police presence.

“My hope is to have better response time for Millville residents,” she said. “And more patrolling – not only in Millville, but in our surrounding unincorporated areas and developments that butt right up to Millville. And this will lessen the burden for our neighboring Ocean View Police Department.”

Botchie cited that, in 2008, of Ocean View’s 212 assists to the DSP, 27 were in Millville; in 2009, of the 193 assists from the OVPD, 29 were in Millville; in 2010, of 210 assists, 10 were in Millville. Over the past three years, there were 615 assists to the DSP, with a total of 66 in Millville, equaling 10.73 percent of the OVPD’s total assists. The two towns had been in discussion over a possible agreement for OVPD to provide service in Millville, but that notion stalled amid discussion of the finances.

Hocker said that he’s absolutely thrilled of the prospect of a greater police presence in the area – not only as a resident, but as a business owner.

“Since Troop 4 reassigned their territories, I know that they’ve been trying to keep a trooper in this area. And the last three shoplifters we’ve caught, the troopers have been there in less than 10 minutes. So they’re certainly making more of a presence in this area, and it’s definitely needed.”

Other councilmembers are equally excited about the partnership. Councilwoman Joan Bennett, who has been a longtime proponent of increasing public safety within the town, said it’s a “step in the right direction.”

“I think it is always wonderful when both parties can benefit from an arrangement like the one that Millville and the state police will be entering into. A win-win is always a good thing. And I am particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of some additional level of police presence in Millville with this new arrangement, since I have been a longtime advocate of increasing public safety coverage in the town of Millville.”

“I think it’s a great deal,” added Councilman Robert Gordon. “I think, for the State Police to have a location that they’re not going back and forth to Georgetown, running back and forth, to be a midpoint or even a stopping point – just for the police to ride through the town – that shows a presence.”

The town is still in the early phases of the arrangement and has to iron out a few more details before bringing it to a formal vote of the council.

“At this point, they’re still in the discussion phase,” said Thompson. “There’s going to have to be some vote, in terms of formalizing the relationship, whether that’s through a lease or a memorandum of understanding. It sounds like the talks have been productive to the point where they’re getting close to those details, which is great.”

“We’re going to move forward, but slowly,” added Botchie. “My gut is telling me that this will end up being a very beneficial arrangement. That Millville can help subsidize for them to have them here, it’s worth it.”

Until everything is up and running, the town will continue to pay the DSP per their scheduled requests for coverage in the town, to ensure safety for residents and visitors.

“Obviously, the community would like more of a police presence, and this is just one avenue in which we can increase patrol in and around the Millville area,” said Harris. “The Delaware State Police is excited about it, and we want to get up and running as soon as possible.”

So far, the town and council have received positive feedback from business owners and community members, and they are excited to take the next step.

“People are glad to see anytime that they know more troopers are going to be in this area, and certainly they know it’s beneficial,” said Hocker. “We just want to stress that this is the baby steps to a long-term advantage to the community, and we certainly welcome any comments from anybody – whether they’re in Millville or not in Millville.”