Camden police chief ready to hang up his badge

Camden Police Chief William Bryson is retiring at the end of the month after 18 years of leading the department. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

CAMDEN — The town’s retiring police chief says enforcing the law sure isn’t what it used to be.

Except, perhaps, if the officer is working for the Town of Camden.

That’s the opinion of William Bryson, who will serve his last day on Friday.

According to the 61-year-old chief of nearly two decades, his department has retained officers far longer than the general trend elsewhere.

While all of Camden’s police force have served at least eight years in the municipality, Chief Bryson says “the general rule of thumb in law enforcement is that you can expect an officer to serve two years (before they often consider moving on). If another department offers a better benefit, even if it’s just a little bit better, then officers these days may soon be gone.”

As an example, the chief knows of an officer who has been with six or seven departments in less than 10 years “which never would have happened years ago because everyone’s sense of loyalty to where you were was so strong.”

Plus, the number of qualified applicants to join the police force has dropped steadily throughout Delaware, Chief Bryson said.

Also, the chief believes public support for police officers and a bond with the community they serve has lessened noticeably since his career began with the Delaware State Police nearly four decades ago.

In Camden, however, the chief believes that a certain positive understanding still exists between police officers and the citizenry they serve.

“The relationship we have with the community is very strong,” he said. “When the issues in Ferguson (Missouri) surfaced (with police-public tensions) we made sure everyone talked to everyone and never experienced anything like that kind of situation.”

Also, Dover Police Chief Marvin Mailey will take over as the Delaware Police Chiefs’ Council’s chairman as Chief Bryson relinquishes the position.

Reason to stay

Chief Bryson came to Camden PD 18 years ago after retiring from a 21-year DSP career and thought he’d maybe serve 10 years in the area he grew up in.

“There’s some good people here and there were plenty of reasons to stay,” he said.

Eventually, the time became right to give that up because “39 years in law enforcement has been enough,” Chief Bryson said.

Moving forward, the chief hopes to spend time fixing up a house he has on his grandparents property in western North Carolina, along with making long-needed renovations on his own home. He’d consider returning to work at some point, but only part-time.

After submitting a retirement letter to town council in April that he was leaving in June, the chief delayed departure when opportunity for his replacement Lt. Marcus Whitney to attend the FBI’s National Academy arrived. It was the department’s first ever invitation to the academy and couldn’t be pushed to the side.

Lt. Whitney, a 48-year-old Smyrna native with nearly 15 years service to Camden PD, will now take police chief duties with a skill set he never could have imagined before the academy.

During media training with the FBI, Lt. Whitney realized the value of Facebook and how the back and forth communication with the community can enhance the information flow.

“We want people to know what the Camden Police Department is up to,” he said. “I never would have considered a Facebook venue before the academy but am now convinced how much of a benefit it can be for both the public and police.”

The way Lt. Whitney sees it, community members “want to know what’s going on, they want answers to their questions and they want to be in the know.”

While the Camden police force briefly peaked at 15 officers around 2006 or 2007, Chief Bryson said budget cuts and the town’s financial struggles due to in-house improprieties whittled the number to the current eight staffers (two still in the police academy with scheduled arrivals in February).

The Great Recession of 2008 of exacerbated the funding issues and Chief Bryson still laments having to eliminate positions for “good police officers who through no fault of their own had their livelihood taken away because we can’t pay them.”

Looking back, he said “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Transition has begun

Lt. Whitney has worked with the chief in transitioning into the leadership role and has already seen that “everything rests on his shoulders, it’s a tremendous responsibility” with a lot of details and duties that come with it.

The chief thinks his successor will make out well.

“He’s been a good officer who has a great dedication to the department, which will be needed,” Chief Bryson said. “This is not an 8 to 4, Monday through Friday commitment because the phone rings at all hours of the night, on weekends and in the early morning, and you must always be ready to respond and devote full attention to whatever is at hand.”

Camden Police Lt. Marcus Whitney is the soon to be chief who has been with the department for nearly 15 years. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Currently, Chief Bryson said the job “is tough, it keeps officers busy. Our complaint load is probably as high as any in the state.”

Police are committed to cover the town of about 4,000 (not including visitors and additions during the school year) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Chief Bryson said.

According to the chief, Camden has a property crime rate that’s 4 1/2 times the national average, fueled in part by the heroin crisis and big shoplifting and theft targets at Lowe’s and Walmart within town limits on U.S. 13. Vehicle break-ins and internal thefts are also regularly on the call list, and local officers often arrest visitors from Pennsylvania and New Jersey for crimes.

“There are shoplifting rings that come here too,” Lt. Whitney added.

Lt. Whitney served 11 years in the United States Army, retiring as a sergeant with combat deployment in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. After leaving the military, he worked five years in the Seaford Police Department and another in Selbyville before being hired by Camden in November 2004.

“I’m thankful for this opportunity and it has been a goal of mine for awhile now,” Lt. Whitney said. “We want to continue to emphasize community-oriented policing and as the town grows will try to take proactive steps to address the increased crime concerns that will come with that expansion.”

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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