Ocean View favors combining police force with Millville

Ocean View Mayor Gordon Wood at a May 12 town council meeting reported that he had recently met with Millville officials, along with Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin and Town Manager Conway Gregory about the possibility of a combined police force for the two neighboring towns.

Wood noted that they specifically did not go over cost during that meeting. He said that when Millville officials figure out what they wanted to do about the idea, the two towns could talk costs. He did mention that, to have a police force, it costs about $850,000 per year, or roughly $100,000 per officer – not including the building cost – to maintain the force.

Wood said creating a combined police force wouldn’t be easy and might require a charter change, but the councils were authorized to enter into such an agreement if Millville requests it.

“We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by working with our neighbors,” he said.

Councilman Bob Lawless proposed a resolution to enter into a temporary agreement in which Ocean View police would take some responsibility for patrolling Millville in an off-duty type setting, saying it could be a good way to gauge the situation before anything was finalized. He offered that time and service rates could be jointly agreed to by both towns.

Wood noted that, in 2008, Ocean View responded to 86 calls from Millville and estimated that, at three hours each for reports on those incidents, Ocean View police had given a cumulative seven weeks of their time, unpaid, to Millville in that year alone.

“When the calls come, we go, and we get thanked with gratitude. We do get $25,000 from the county, which may turn into $12,500…” Wood added, referencing plans under the most recent draft of Sussex County’s budget for the 2010 fiscal year to cut municipal police grants in half.

Wood reiterated that the “ball is in Millville’s court” and said, “If Millville asks us, we have the opportunity to get the compensation,” noting that, as it is now, with no agreement, Ocean View gives Millville “seven weeks of man-time per year.”

George Pickle, a resident, said he did not know if the idea was a good one, after Wood asked for public comments. “There’s a million issues to look at. Let’s keep what we have and let them work it out themselves,” he said.

Residents Bill Olsen and Richard Birkmeyer were in agreement that a regional police force was a good idea, but Olsen said he was not in support of officers patrolling Millville in a “moonlighting” capacity, where it would be on a part-time basis.

Resident Elaine Herbert said the idea is not something to be looked into lightly and that she felt Ocean View should “take care of their own” and should say no to responding to calls from outside areas. She likened it to maintaining border control and the town of Ocean View doing charity work for other towns.

“How do you say no?” asked Wood, to which she replied, “No!”

“I don’t want to be in the position to make that call,” said Wood. “It’s life or death.”

McLaughlin interjected at this point in the discussion.

”Millville seems to be getting a bad rap here. For the record, we’ve never asked them for a dime. And if we presented them with this, they would gladly compensate us. They deeply appreciate what we are doing. We simply can’t say no. If Mrs. Herbert is getting attacked in the Food Lion parking lot, I’m not going to tell my officers they can’t go because it’s in Millville.”

Lawless added that he was not looking to get a proposal typed up and handed to the mayor of Millville “right now” but he said he wanted the council to discuss the options.

“Maybe we’ll find it doesn’t work, or find out things we hadn’t considered,” said Lawless, adding that it would be good to find any friction points before entering into a long-term relationship.

Wood said again, “We can only respond to a request from Millville. We wait for them to make a decision.”

The council voted 4-0 on the resolution Lawless proposed, with Councilman Perry Mitchell abstaining.

Mitchell – who has voiced objection to the idea in the past – formally objected to the taking of a vote at the meeting, saying he felt it was not properly advertised on the meeting’s agenda and, on Wednesday, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaint with the Delaware Attorney General’s office.

With the passage of the vote on Lawless’ motion, the ball appears to be back in Millville’s court: “4-0 and we wait for Millville,” said Wood.