New wheels for Frankford PD (copy)

Frankford Police Department Chief Laurence Corrigan is warning the Town that a lack of officers puts the restored police department at risk, with Corrigan ready to hand in his resignation if he doesn't get some help so he can properly police the town.

Frankford Police Chief Laurence Corrigan told the Frankford Town Council last week at a meeting regarding the Town’s budget that he needs more police officers in order to properly patrol the town.

“I’m begging for more police, here,” Corrigan said. “I don’t know how you’re going to do it, but I’m asking for it.

“This has been by far the busiest month since I’ve been here,” he said. “We’ve had robberies, child-abuse cases, burglaries, a murder in town... My officer’s out on a child-abuse case now, and has been since 9 a.m.,” Corrigan said during the meeting, around 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 27.

Corrigan then expressed frustration with the amount of work he and his only other officer, parti-time officer Anthony Valenti, are shouldering.

“Personally, I’m not sure how much more I can sacrifice for you guys or the town,” he said. “I am the lowest-paid police chief in the entire region — in a couple cases, by $50,000 a year.”

“I gave you a three-year contract with no raises. I’m buying my own equipment. I’m in a one-sided relationship here, and I’m doing all the work,” he said.

“I have a few suggestions, and one of them is to shutter the police department,” Corrigan told the council. “I’m not so sure how much longer I can stay at the helm here.”

Aside from potentially closing the department, which had been dormant for several years before he took it over in December 2019, Corrigan suggested the council consider revisiting the possibility of merging with the Dagsboro Police Department or adding more manpower to Frankford’s force, which currently consists only of himself and Valenti, who typically works 16 hours a week for Frankford but has told Corrigan that in June he can only work 32 hours total for the month. Valenti is also a full-time officer for Dagsboro’s police department.

Corrigan said he is “in no way, shape or form capitalizing on what happened on Kauffman Lane the other day,” referring to the shooting death of a Lincoln man just inside town limits.

“We owe it to the community here to keep them safe,” he said. He expressed frustration that, minutes before he was asked for input on the police department’s funding outlook, the council was debating whether to purchase new barbecue grills and fencing for the town park, and discussing a potential new equipment storage building “instead of providing for public safety.

“I don’t get it. I do not get it,” Corrigan said. “If you all want to terminate me after this dialogue, have at it. Have at it. Because I’m a couple inches away,” he said. “Sorry to be so blunt.”

“You guys need to make a decision on whether you want a police department or you don’t, and if you don’t, shut it down. I recognize the implications of that. I’ll get another job somewhere. I’ll be fine,” he said.

“What I’m worried about is your town. I’m worried about what we’ve created thus far. Either I get help or I don’t. And if I don’t, let me know and I’ll vacate the premises right now,” Corrigan told the council. “That’s where I’m at.”

He told the council, whose members were silent during his remarks, that he has heard from organizations that they will not be offering food deliveries in town, and people who have said they’re no longer interested in relocating to Frankford in the wake of recent increases in crime. A local church is considering not having a planned Father’s Day celebration in the town park, he said.

Corrigan also mentioned a prayer vigil the night before in the park.

“People are praying for peace, in our little village here,” he said.

“I shield you from a lot of stuff,” he said. “But I can’t anymore.”

Council Vice President Skip Ash praised both Corrigan and Valenti, and said, “The chief needs help. He’s got to have help.”

“We have dug this police department out of mothballs,” Ash said. “It’s like a poker game. We’ve got to put some more money in the kitty, and we’ve got to go with it.”

“We need to put our heads together and do it,” Ash continued. “We can’t go backwards.”

Corrigan said of his three possible solutions that the one he favors is hiring two more part-time officers. He estimated the cost of that would be about $90,000, in addition to the department’s proposed budget of $111,000. He said his “dream list” would include a full-time officer and a part-time officer, but for now, “One or two more part-time officers sure would help,” even if he could only get each officer for eight hours a week. “Anything, at this point, would help,” Corrigan said.

Ash agreed.

“I’m one the chief’s side,” he said, while acknowledging that the Town is at the “11th hour” in its budget process for the coming fiscal year.

Council President Greg Welch said, “I agree that we need a police force, most definitely.”

Corrigan said he has certified officers in mind who would agree to work 16 hours per week at $25 an hour. Town Council Treasurer John Wright suggested that the Town could perhaps eliminate its maintenance department and contract out grass-cutting, in order to free up some funds for the police department.

Referring to the recent uptick in crime, Ash said, “We have got to make a statement as a police department that we are not going to have this.”

Town council mulls tax increase

Welch said the Town has the ability to draw from its reserves, which he said are healthy due mostly to the sale of the former Town-owned water plant two years ago for $3.6 million. He admitted that is not the ideal way to fund the police department, but said, “If we have to, we have to.”

Ash asked if the Town could institute a tax on town businesses, to which Welch responded that “You’re going to drive businesses away,” if the Town adopted its own gross receipts tax.

“When we formed the police force, we knew we were very limited in budget, and the chief’s been doing a great job,” Welch said. “But I know we need more police officers.”

“I don’t want to see something happen here like happened in Delmar,” Ash said, referring to the murder of Delmar police officer Cpl. Keith Heacock in April. Heacock had responded alone to a report of a fight and was assaulted; he died several days later, after being taken off life support.

When the subject of 24-hour police coverage was raised, Corrigan told the council he would need eight officers to offer that, and called it a “pipe dream.” Welch said that several years ago, when discussions were going on with the Dagsboro Police Department about a merged police force, 24-hour coverage would have been a possibility.

Corrigan said he can provide a full-time officer and a part-time officer for an additional annual cost of less than $90,000, compared to the $120,000 that the merger with the Dagsboro force would have cost the Town each year. Corrigan said he feels he could hire a qualified full-time officer for about $51,000, plus benefits, which could be an additional $20,000 of costs on top of that figure. The option with hiring two additional part-time officers would cost about $60,000, he said.

Welch said he still feels the idea of a merger with Dagsboro’s police department is “worth pursuing,” although he said he feels the cost would realistically be higher than the $120,000 figure quoted several years ago.

“If both communities benefited from it, I think it’s a smart move,” Welch said.

Corrigan said he feels his time with Frankford has been his “most enjoyable, rewarding and frustrating chapter of my career,” and praised the dedication of the council as a whole.

Wright said he fears that if the Town doesn’t do anything to increase revenue, such as raising property taxes, “We’re going to be right back here next year” with the same funding issues. There were no members of the public present at the May 27 meeting, although it was open to the public. Ash said he thought most town residents would be willing to pay more property taxes for more police coverage.

Welch said he doesn’t think a referendum to raise taxes would be coming — with the discussions last week centering on a potential 10 percent increase. Referendums are usually reserved for “when you’re going to borrow money” and residents will have to pay it back through increased taxes, he said.

Council Member Pam Davis, participating in the meeting via phone, said she agrees the Town should raise taxes for the police department. Wright asked the other council members if they felt there is a “logical high end” to funds that the Town could safely take from its reserves to fund an increase in police coverage for the coming year.

The Town generally receives $30,000 in funding from Sussex County each year for the police department. Corrigan said other funding sources are less assured, which he blamed on the department’s on-again, off-again status for years before he arrived. Welch said he believes the Town will be able to use some federal pandemic relief funds for public-safety costs.

“We’re talking, we’re coming with the hard decisions and we’re getting it done,” Welch said of the Town’s budget process.

The next Frankford Town Council meeting will be Monday, June 7, at 7 p.m., during which Welch said the possibility of raising taxes may be discussed.

Staff Reporter

Kerin majored in journalism at Ohio University and has worked as an editor and reporter for monthly, daily and weekly publications in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Delaware since 1983. A native of Baltimore, Md., she has lived in Ocean View since 1996.