Milford police to hire more officers

MILFORD — Help is finally headed for the Milford Police Department.

After researching crime reports through the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System, Chief Kenny Brown came to the conclusion that police officers under his leadership were working harder than other officers across the state.

“Delaware’s fortunate in the sense that Delaware has one system for the whole state — it’s easy to track things,” he said of DELJIS.

Chief Brown and the Milford Police Department initially requested complaint loads from DELJIS last November to compare their work to other municipalities. But, that proved problematic.

“Not every department codes everything the same way. But we could work with crime reports. If it’s a crime, it’s a crime. And it will have a report,” he said.

Looking at the crime reports for each agency in the state of Delaware from Jan. 1 through Oct., 2017, Chief Brown said he found what he needed.

“In Milford, each officer is writing about 67 reports. Most of the other agencies were writing 40, maybe 50, per officer, including the state police. As soon as I saw that, I said, ‘Holy cow, I need to look around more,’” he explained.

“Having that data to support what I’ve already been telling them, that they’re busy, really helped explain the situation to the [city] council. Per man, per officer, our officers were busier than any other officer in Delaware. That really helped make the point. The council saw the need, they heard our cry and they responded very well. I’m tickled to death that they were willing to tap into reserve money to make sure this happens.”

At a price tag of $1.3 million from the city’s water reserves, council members voted June 25 to approve the hiring of five new police officers for the Milford Police Department bringing them to a total of 37 officers. The money from reserves would support those officers for the next three years to allow the city time to work their salaries and other needs into the budget.

“It’s great that we have that and it’s going to be great for our city,” Mayor Archie Campbell said in support of the vote. “More population means more crime. The police officers we have now are working so much overtime and we have to keep them sharp.”

Overtime, according to Chief Brown, will be less frequent once the new officers are trained. As of now, officers in Milford are often required to go to court and attend local events on their regularly scheduled days off.

“What I want to see if that the officers can do their job as safe as possible. And it was not happening when they’re out there running so short and have to do so much. They’re out there working their shifts, monitoring road construction, working events… sometimes the schools need officers for games… Those things are all filled by officers who are off. It should be their day off, but we’re tapping them to fill those positions,” Chief Brown explained.

“So, not only was it unsafe, it’s not giving the citizens what they should have which is more proactive policing. If they’re always reacting, they’re not doing any of that.”

Hiring new officers

Chief Brown and his staff began searching for new officers months ago in anticipation of the recent vote.

Pre-planning was crucial in achieving their goal of hiring new officers, completing their training and having them ready to go around the time the new Bayhealth Sussex Campus opens in 2019.

The department gathered applications received earlier this year and quickly checked applicants for felonies and other possible concerns. Testing began in April, including written and physical tests.

All of this was hampered, he added, by a nationwide problem: less applicants.

“One of the things that’s hurting us is that our applicant pool has decreased by two-thirds. And you see that nationwide. When we would test, we’d have between 100 and 140 applicants. This year, we had about 40,” he said. “The written test weeds out about half. Out of the 40, we had 20 left. One failed the physical test. Some of those will get weeded out by other stuff. It’s a shame. We don’t have the pool to select from anymore.”

Once initial testing is completed, the applicants must sit through oral interviews with a panel of three other officers and Chief Brown. A lie detector test follows along with background investigations, which takes several more weeks.

Next steps

After a candidate is selected, they are considered conditional hires. They must then pass a medical test, a physical and a psychological evaluation in order to be hired as Milford’s newest police officer.

The next police academy, run by the Delaware State Police, begins in September. The Milford Police Department needs to have applicant names turned in by August in order for them to be able to partake in this round of training.

“If we hadn’t preplanned for the hiring of these individuals, we wouldn’t be able to be ready for the upcoming police academy,” Chief Brown said. “Luckily, our preplanning paid off, and we should be able to do it without much trouble.”

He added that the department will hopefully be sending six officers to the academy instead of just five as they are already down by one officer.

The Delaware State Police Training Academy is a six-month residential academy in Dover. Officers stay Monday through Friday and come home on the weekends.

“Basically, it’s a military boot camp style training along with academic portions. It’s a lot of physical activity; it’s very stressful, especially in the first few weeks,” Chief Brown said.

Several alternatives will be chosen from the pool of officer applicants in case one of the officers chosen for Milford drops out of the academy within the first week.

By March, the new officers should be based in Milford and working side-by-side with seasoned officers to continue training within the city. Ideally, within three months, the new officers should be ready to work on their own.

“I’m looking forward to giving our officers the time off they deserve and need, and our citizens the policing they also deserve and need,” Chief Brown said. “We’re requiring too much of our local resources. This was long overdue.”

Jennifer Antonik writes special reports for the Delaware State News

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