Some days, it’s the peach preserves that get you through it.
Just ask Frankford Police Chief Laurence Corrigan — he’ll tell you. As the sole member of Frankford’s police force, there are a lot of long days. He’s hoping the impending hire of a part-time officer will ease that burden, at least a bit.
The Town Council has approved the hiring of an officer who will work 16 hours a week; the application deadline is Sept. 1. Corrigan, who has worked seven days a week since starting his job last November, hopes that infusion of personnel will give him a bit of breathing room.
Coming to the town from decades in state and local law enforcement, Corrigan had a good idea what he was getting into when he came to Frankford in November of 2019. Still, there have been a few days, he said, “when I was wondering ‘why?’” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve made a commitment to the town, and the town’s made a commitment to me. And we’re moving forward. Is it difficult? It is. There’s times late at night when I’m still there and I’m wondering, ‘does it matter?’”
“I think it does.”
Then Corrigan tells what he calls “a corny little story,” but one that speaks volumes about small-town policing and its impact.
He was, he said “having a particularly rough day, questioning my decision. One of the town residents called me and they had made peach preserves,” and offered him a jar.
“In the grand scheme of things, that was very important to me,” Corrigan said. “It came at a very good time.”
He said the gesture touched him for two reasons: “One is, I’ve made inroads into the community and they’re thinking about me,” he said, and secondly, he reiterates, “it came at a good time.”
Corrigan started his time in Frankford with several community outreach activities, especially targeting the town’s youth and their families. He read to children at the town library, just a few steps across the street from his office. He brought in community leaders to talk to youth about what it takes to succeed.
Those types of activities are on hold now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Corrigan said he hopes the health crisis eases soon, and that there isn’t another surge in the fall and winter, so he can get those programs started again.
Meanwhile, Corrigan continues working to improve the efficiency of the department. One recent acquisition, a video phone, will greatly reduce the hours he spends on court appearances. Just one appearance in court in Georgetown, he said, can take several hours of his time. Being able to do those appearances by phone eliminates both travel time and time actually spent in court.
“Are there some more gadgets, toys and vehicles that I want?” he said. “Yeah. I can’t make any bones about it.”
Let’s start with Frankford’s police cars: a pair of Dodge Chargers.
“I’m not a small person,” Corrigan said. “Getting in and of these Chargers, I have to unfold. But this is what we have. And the council recognizes that,” he said. “The council wants a larger SUV for me. And I wouldn’t turn it down.”
A four-wheel-drive vehicle would also be helpful in inclement weather, when the town’s significant older population is particularly vulnerable, Corrigan said. More reliable transportation would help serve them and could be essential during emergencies, he said.
The Chargers had also sat idle for almost three years, along with the police department itself, while the town was served by Delaware State Police after its last chief, Mark Hudson, departed.
Corrigan, who admits “I’m not a mechanic” said he has learned that the two cars suffered internal damage from sitting unused, so there was significant work needed to get them up and running again. In addition, when there are issues with the cars, “for a one-man police department, it’s an ordeal getting them to a dealer in Georgetown.”
He said council members have offered to follow him to Georgetown and give him a ride back to Frankford when the cars have needed work. “They’re not compensated for all of this. I’m very fortunate that I have that” backup, he said.
Corrigan said he is looking forward to having another officer for even the 16 hours he has been given for now. “Would I like somebody to delegate some of my work to? Absolutely. It doesn’t mean that I’ll lose touch with that work, but sometimes you have to arrange your work and prioritize it.” Like a health care worker in an emergency department, Corrigan said he often has to “triage” his work load, putting the most dire situations at the top of the list.
Since the recently approved town budget does not include a proposed code enforcement officer, Corrigan has offered to take on some of those types of duties. He said he is happy to see new homes being constructed in town, but is bothered by the number of dilapidated properties in town. “I feel there’s some eyesores in town that need to be eliminated,” he said.
“There’s some abandoned and run-down homes” that are particularly “bothersome” in Corrigan’s eyes because they are located at the entrance to the town. A “more toothy” town code would help address some of those concerns, as would more meaningful enforcement, Corrigan said.
“The council is pondering on that,” he said of his offer to help.
Ideally, Corrigan said, he would like to add at least one more full-time officer to his department. He realizes, he said, that even though the town recently took in $3.6 million for the sale of its water plant to Artesian Water Co., the council needs to be judicious in how it spends that money.
The council has discussed its plans to pursue annexations as a way to bring growth to the town, which has not added to its business community or its residential development in decades. Several areas on the outskirts of town have been targeted for annexation.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Corrigan said. If and when that growth does occur, he said he wants to be ready. “With the direction the town is going, it’s going to require a more ‘round-the-clock police presence,” he said.
While he admitted that there have been “growing pains” in his time in Frankford and that there have been a few “misunderstandings” between him and the council as he has worked to restart the police department, they’ve been worked out.
He said that he doesn’t dwell on comparing his department to those in neighboring towns, even those like Dagsboro, which has three full-time officers for its town. Both Dagsboro and Frankford have about 900 residents, but Dagsboro, with its larger business community, has different needs, he said.
For now, Corrigan said, he wants to keep building his department, but agrees to take it slowly. He is pursuing grants to help him move the department forward in a way that meets the town’s needs. “I’ve made a multi-year commitment to the town,” he said. “And the town has made a multi-year commitment to me.
“My Christmas list has got to be realistic,” he said.
Meanwhile, a jar of preserves here and there goes a long way.