FOP ‘disappointed’ in city council discussion regarding Dover police

DOVER — Dover City Councilman Ralph Taylor Jr. spent 20 years working on the force with the Dover Police Department.

Ralph Taylor Jr.

That’s why Jordan Miller, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15 in Dover, was so taken aback by comments and suggestions that he heard Councilman Taylor make at a virtual meeting of Dover City Council on Monday night, in which the councilman suggested changing “Memorandum of Understandings” (MOU) with several area police agencies to assist the Dover Police Department when the city is finally reopened following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Mr. Miller said he thought the councilman’s comments undermined the work that gets done by the Dover police.

“We are severely disappointed to say the least,” Mr. Miller wrote in a letter to the Delaware State News. “Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15 is comprised of competent and professional men and women of the City of Dover Police Department. These men and women have risen to the unprecedented challenges that the COVID-19 Worldwide Pandemic continues to present.

“At no point in time has there ever been any doubt in the ability of the men and women of the City of Dover Police Department to effectively and efficiently patrol the streets of Dover. To paint a picture that the City of Dover is overwhelmed with crime and requires outside assistance is irresponsible and misinformed. To get the facts regarding modified patrols, police responses and current crime statistics, one should contact the executive staff of the City of Dover Police Department.”

During the meeting, councilman Taylor discussed steps the city of Dover could take to reopen when the number of cases of COVID-19 begin to lower and the state gives it permission to move forward.

Mr. Taylor made suggestions such as eventually putting hand washing stations downtown, allowing stores to conduct part of their business on the sidewalks and then said the city would need help in enforcing safety issues downtown, such as aggressive panhandling, which would violate social distancing rules currently in place, and eventually, crime.

That was where the FOP Lodge 15 in Dover had a problem.

In an effort to combat potential crime in Dover, Councilman Taylor suggested the city revisit some MOU’s that it has with the Delaware State Police, Delaware Capitol Police, Delaware State University Police and some constables that work for the Capital School District.

“The safety aspect when we open up the city, we don’t have the manpower currently to do everything that needs to be done,” Councilman Taylor said. “I’d like for us to look at a different strategy, meaning let’s look at some different MOUs — and MOU with Delaware State Police allowing them to enforce the highways. They can hit highway cars and (also) bring them downtown.

“I’d like for us to look at an MOU with the Capitol Police, allowing them to just patrol downtown. I’d like for us to take a look at our MOU with Delaware State University since they are served by a police department, we can also utilize their services. Also, (the) Capital School District has a 10- or 15-man police department, constables who are retired police officers. I believe we could find some kind of (job for) them.”

He added, “Each and everything I’ve suggested costs us (the city of Dover) no money whatsoever. It just means that we have to change our agreements.”

However, that was about the time when flags began waving and questions began to pour in about the recommendation.

“I’d certainly like to hear what the chief (Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson) has to say about it because there may be pros and cons that I can’t answer or don’t know, but I would certainly find out from his standpoint as he has come into this situation,” Councilman Fred Neil said. “I want to know what he thinks about it. Obviously, if we can expand it, does it cause some liability if one of those officers gets hurt in coming in and doing what they’re doing?”

Chief Johnson, who was sworn in as Dover’s police chief in February, was on the virtual call and presented his thoughts to Councilman Taylor.

One of the biggest issues the chief could see was training issues between all the entities – as well as monetary and liability issues.

“There’s probably a dozen different variables in play when you begin to discuss some of the things that Councilman Taylor was referring to,” Chief Johnson said, about the police department collaboration in Dover. “The first thing that comes to mind is I’m going to need to speak to the labor organization and speak to the FOP about what their thoughts would be. I have a thought about workman’s compensation, if something were to happen in the clash that may occur between our (insurance) carrier and a carrier that was insuring one of these other departments.

“There’s also a bridge that you cross when you go from a mutual-aid footing to a delivery of primary-service footing and whether or not there’s a financial consideration depending on how many hours that those officers would be utilized. When you have an event and you have mutual aid, that’s courtesy service, and we give just as good as you get, but when you start to talk about a scheduled presence, I would not be surprised if I was asked how that was going to be subsidized potentially by the chiefs of those entities if this was for any considerable length of time.”

Councilman Taylor’s suggestion that Dover look at working with officers from other departments as the city started to reopen was in response to some of the criminal activities he has seen while participating in four-hour neighborhood watch shifts on Friday nights. He said he always sees a large crowd gathered on New and Reed Streets downtown and also recommended the city look into trying to relocate the Driftwood Spirits liquor store on Bradford Street after witnessing numerous problems there.

He said the city could post officers around New and Reed Streets and bring Capital School District constables and have them patrol or walk in the downtown areas.

Councilman David Anderson said Mr. Taylor’s idea is just up to the city to pursue.

“According to state law, this can already be done,” he said, “I know certainly with the Capitol and State Police, it’s just a matter of us allowing this.”

City Council President William “Bill” Hare recommended that the Dover Police Department add some officers to its force last year. He still thinks it’s an idea that should be looked at.

“Do we need to look at more staff if this is something that’s going to be ongoing?” Council President Hare said. “Maybe we need to have some more officers in the mix. I’m an advocate that if you need more officers, then get more officers.”

Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. asked Mr. Taylor if he saw anything that might stand in the way of potential MOUs between the various police departments.

“In light of this pandemic, I’m not really seeing major barriers,” said Councilman Taylor. “I see that if everyone is collaborative and we started talking as one and in the best interest of our city, I believe that everyone will be on board. The details have to be worked out, but the willingness to do it is what we’re seeking now, is everyone on board and willing to be a part of this effort to ensure that when the city of Dover opens up it’s going to be safe.

“We’re going to have a lot of people with masks on, because that’s one of the mandates by the governor, so people are going to have masks and who knows what can happen?”

Mr. Miller concluded his letter by saying the FOP Lodge 15 will always stand behind its officers when it comes to the quality of their work.

“The City of Dover Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15 continues to experience a close and supportive relationship with the Dover City Council,” he wrote. “However we cannot stand by in silence and allow an inaccurate picture to be portrayed of the men and women of the City of Dover Police Department. We will continue to provide excellent and professional police services to the citizens of the City of Dover as we always have.”

Councilmen Tim Slavin and Matt Lindell voiced their opposition to putting the issue of reopening the city on Monday night’s city council agenda.

“While I appreciate the thought and the energy and putting this on the agenda as a think-out-loud session, the problem I think now is that tomorrow’s headline is going to read, ‘We need more officers, but we can’t afford it so we’re going to have other people come in,’” Mr. Slavin said. “Other departments are going to read about this for the first time (Tuesday) and it has put the chief in an awful position, and it has put the mayor (Robin Christiansen) in an awful position.”

Said Councilman Lindell, “It’s good to discuss, but at this point we’re talking about way, way, way down the road. Any effort that we need to discuss to open up needs to be coordinated with state officials, and (Kent) county officials, as well.”

Councilman Neil didn’t see anything wrong with Councilman Taylor bringing the issues up at Monday’s meeting.

“I think that Ralph (Taylor) bringing this up was a good idea, even though there’s a lot of things that are out of our hands,” he said. “We’re waiting for both the federal government and the state government to lift things that we can’t lift. We have to know exactly what we’re going to be facing when they are lifted, so to have this discussion now it is merely a start … we’re planting some seeds.”

In other council action …

• While discussing the city of Dover’s Quarterly Revenue Report, City Councilman David Anderson asked City Manager Donna Mitchell where the city stood on cash collection for its services, especially in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mrs. Mitchell responded that Dover’s cash collection is currently down $1.8 million at this time this year, as opposed to last year.

• City council members followed a staff recommendation to allow annexation and to rezone a two-acre property owned by JACJIM, LLC at 679 Horsepond Road from BG (General Business Zone) to C-3 (Service Commercial Zone), AEOZ (Airport Environs Overlay Zone), APZ II (Accident Potential Zone II) and 70 DNL B (Noise Zone B).

While the property is served by City of Dover Electric, it is not currently served by the City of Dover Water or Sanitary Sewer. Water service is available on the opposite side of Horsepond Road.

Sanitary sewer is available; however, the developer will be required to tie into a pressure force main that is located within an easement on the opposite side of Horsepond Road. The developer will be responsible to provide calculations that the existing infrastructure can accept the effluent created by this project. The developer would be responsible to obtain permission to enter the existing easement and connect to the pressure force main.

Installation of utilities will require DelDOT approval. The property owner is responsible for all costs associated with extending and providing service to the proposed development including tapping the water main, extending and tapping the sewer main, paying impact fees and obtaining permits.