All 24 members of the Ocean View Citizens Auxiliary Patrol tendered their resignations this week, after the Ocean View town council adopted a revised CAP operations manual.
Former CAP Officer in Charge Tom Sheeran said the revised operations manual had the patrol reporting to all five members of the council, the town manager and the chief of police.
“We went from one boss to seven,” said Sheeran. “And they could contradict each other any time they wanted.”
Another issue CAP members had with the revised manual was the fact that volunteers from surrounding areas would not be allowed to volunteer anymore, as the manual dictated that members had live full-time within the town limits of Ocean View. Some of its existing members live just outside the town and in neighboring towns.
“The revised manual was an insult,” Sheeran said. “It was demeaning. It was written in a dictatorial point of view, and you can’t do that with volunteers. It just doesn’t work.
He said the changes were made less to correct any real problems with the unit’s operation than to bring about one particular change desired by council members who voted for the revised manual.
“It was done for a reason,” he said, “and it was to get rid of us.”
Sheeran emphasized that the patrol was always there when needed and never failed to meet an obligation, whether it be a parade or funeral or an impending storm. In the open letter to the citizens of Ocean View issued by the resigning CAP members this week, Sheeran stated that through October, CAP volunteers had accumulated more than 11,000 volunteer hours or roughly $252,146 worth of work for the town, based on standard computations for the value of volunteer time.
According to Ocean View Councilman Perry Mitchell, however, the reform was to “professionalize CAP and give legislative oversight to their organization.”
“The rewriting of their manual did that and, of course, they did not like it. For example, the manual required them to sign up to fixed schedules so that proper planning could be done. The CAP organization was not being supervised well and was being used as a built-in special interest to support police initiatives. The Public Safety Building was their ‘clubhouse.’ I introduced the resolution for the reform several months ago. No CAP member came to me with any proposals for reform.”
As for Mitchell’s assertions regarding proper planning, Sheeran said the revision unnecessarily discouraged volunteers from walking in to the building to help at a moment’s notice, even in the event of a storm or other unforeseeable disaster.
According to Sheeran, disaster preparedness was just one of many items CAP members were trained in, as homeland security was the basis of its existence.
“On August 17, 2004, the Ocean View Delaware Citizen Auxiliary Patrol Unit was born and became part of the President’s Homeland Security Program,” he wrote in his letter.
“CAP was recognized by Delaware Emergency Management Agency’s (DEMA) Director of Citizen Corp, Mr. Bob George, and became the first volunteer citizen organization of its kind in Delaware. This allowed CAP to receive training and support from the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Volunteers in Police Service (VIPS). Shortly afterward, CAP was recognized and supported by Delaware’s Retired and Senior Volunteers Program (RSVP). CAP became the role model for others to emulate throughout the state.”
Mayor Gordon Wood, who voted against the changes to the group’s operations manual, publicly thanked the CAP and Sheeran for their dedication to the town at this Tuesday’s council meeting.
Besides their extensive training in disaster preparedness and safety presentations, CAP members took care of everyday tasks at the public safety building, such as cleaning the bathrooms and manning the front desk at the police station – things that will now have to be done by paid officers or town employees.
“The CAP was comprised of a bunch of great people,” said Police Chief Ken McLaughlin this week. “They did some very good things for the residents of this community.”
McLaughlin said that – besides helping with community policing programs and disaster preparedness efforts, which they spearheaded – the volunteer services CAP provided freed police from performing some of the less police-work related tasks they would otherwise have to do. For instance, coming in to clean the bathrooms and taking the cars in for routine maintenance. Instead of having one or two officers do that, CAP volunteers did it. And officers have now had to pick up those tasks.
“Will we get by?” he asked rhetorically. “Yeah, we’ll survive. But that’s one more thing on the plate, and the plates are already pretty full. I can’t say enough about the volunteers. They constantly supported us and asked for nothing in return.”
As for the group’s future, Sheeran alluded to the fact that some members might look to neighboring areas to form another CAP-type group. But unless they form under an active police force, they could not be under the auspices of the Volunteers in Police Service or VIPS program, under which CAP was founded and operated.
For instance, the town of Millville has recently advertised the need for volunteers, but Millville, with no police force of its own, would fall under that category of not being eligible for a VIPS program. Selbyville, which does have its own police department, has an active citizens’ auxiliary patrol comprising four or five members but would like to see that number be more in the range of seven to 10, according to Selbyville Police Chief Scott Collins, and they are actively recruiting.
Collins said his volunteers are trained in basic first aid, fire safety and traffic control, and learn skills under the Citizens Emergency Response Team protocols under DEMA, so they are equipped to both survive and help their fellow neighbors in the event of an emergency until emergency services can get to the scene. He said they are also trained in crime prevention and neighborhood watch-type duties – duties that were performed in Ocean View by CAP members.
Sheeran said that some of the former CAP members have said nothing short of a new council could make them return to service in Ocean View, even though their time there, for the most part, was positive.
“The sad part is the current council will be gone in a few years, and the town will still be the loser. But we had fun while we were doing it.”