By Tim Saxton, Mayor
Over the past three years, concerns regarding the South Bethany Police Department have been debated at town council meetings, scrutinized by many and reported in the Coastal Point. Former mayors and town councils have wrestled with the issues.
In December 2017, the mayor and town council voted to introduce needed reforms, including a Charter revision that directed the police department to report to the town manager. The previous mayor and town council had additional work to complete around salary ranges and other personnel related items. Unfortunately, the prior mayor failed to deliver a resolution to the issues within the last six months of her term.
In June 2018, a new mayor and town council were sworn into place. In July 2018, along with the town manager, they began to address the work that still needed to be completed. The goal was to complete the necessary work and have a new plan in place for the end of one year of evaluation if required. This goal was met on target by the town council. Additional departures occurred, which left the South Bethany Police Department short-staffed and without a chief of police.
One can continue to debate the merits of specific actions, or one can decide to move forward. The current town council unanimously and confidently chose to move forward and ignore the endless and fruitless debate of the past. It is far better to shape the future than spend time re-litigating history. Our Town has suffered through countless anonymous and misleading postcards, inappropriate blogs and Facebook postings, and harsh criticism from a few individuals. It takes leadership to make progress through challenging times and move forward, as demonstrated by this town council.
So, in February 2019, as the town council prepared for the 2020-fiscal-year budget, it was noted that no action was being taken by the police department to improve services and supplemental support was needed to assure the safety of South Bethany.
Internal discussions were held to determine the best path forward as the Town continued recruitment of police officers and prepared for the summer. As has been reported in the Coastal Point, the Town’s chief of police and second- in-command retired in March, along with the departure of another officer. This accelerated the town council planning for short-term supplemental support.
Out of difficult times, very positive things can happen. The South Bethany town manager and mayor reached out to Ocean View, Fenwick Island, Bethany Beach and the Delaware State Police for assistance. Multiple meetings and discussions were held. The state police and every local community mayor, town manager and chief of police asked how they could assist South Bethany.
From these discussions we have signed or will sign agreements for short-term supplemental support with multiple towns, in addition to the state police. South Bethany is paying its own way, and every agency is being fully reimbursed for any support. This is a short-term plan until the Town has filled all open officer positions and recruited a new chief of police.
The support and cooperation of all local municipalities in coming to the aid of South Bethany has been an amazing experience. It demonstrates the commitment of all communities for the need to assure the overall safety of our beach towns. All mayors, town managers and police chiefs should be very proud of the cooperation and efforts to come together in a time of need.
The mayor and town council of South Bethany want to thank the Delaware State Police and the Towns of Ocean View, Fenwick Island and Bethany Beach — especially all the responsible officials — for their thoughtful leadership and support. We will be forever grateful to each of them and, if ever necessary, will return the same aid without question. The leadership of all our local communities clearly have demonstrated their appreciation of our need to support one another.