Cape Gazette


Letters to the Editor

Apr 12, 2011

Sussex needs sheriff with law enforcement power

A Sussex County sheriff’s department with arrest authority? Heavens to heck!

Sheriff Jeffrey Christopher is proposing to make the Sussex County sheriff and his deputies full law enforcement officers, much as then-Sheriff Bob Reed did four to 12 years ago – to no avail. Christopher ran on this platform last fall and defeated Sheriff Eric Swanson at least in part on this point. More law enforcement is badly needed in Sussex County. This, I’m told, is not desired in Kent County. Fine. Further, it’s not something residents of New Castle County would “understand.”

By “understand,” I mean that New Castle County has a county police department, albeit independent of the New Castle sheriff, but county police nonetheless. New Castle County taxpayers pay for that, and one presumes they are happy.

Kent and Sussex counties have no such force. We are policed by the state police. The Sussex County Council even pays the state to provide more troopers than otherwise would be assigned. Presumably, this means those elected officials think we need more police presence than the state would normally suggest.

We rarely see a trooper in my neighborhood now that the trooper who used to live here has moved. However, from time to time we have little bursts of burglaries. We’ve even had a couple home invasions in the middle of the night.

I was visiting with a woman in my church a while back who was describing a drug den in the Angola/Long Neck neighborhood. She talked about calling the sheriff. I didn’t bother, even gently, to tell her that the last place she should call with a criminal issue in Delaware is the sheriff. Notwithstanding what seems to be plain language in the state constitution, Atty. Gen. Joseph R. Biden III has ruled that Delaware sheriffs have no police (arrest) authority. Any such assertion of lack of police authority would be a hilarious joke elsewhere. With one exception (Connecticut), the sheriff is the county’s principal law-enforcement officer. But not in Delaware, where sheriffs are usually viewed as process-servers and managers of sheriff’s sales.

Law enforcement in Sussex County municipalities is fairly decent. Law enforcement in New Castle County is decent because there are City of Wilmington and New Castle County police departments. Law enforcement is probably fine in Kent County because it is dominated by Dover with respectable departments in Milford and Smryna.

However, much of the developed area of eastern Sussex is defenseless. Clearly, Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, Fenwick Island, Lewes, Milton and Rehoboth Beach have police departments, though of different qualities to be sure. However, all the areas outside those municipalities, other than what light patrolling Delaware State Police Troop 7 can provide, have nothing. After all, Troop 7’s mission is to keep the speeds on Route One somewhere below NASCAR levels. Same for Troop 4 on Route 13 and Route 113.

Meanwhile, those of us outside municipal limits are naked before the criminal class. The reason we are naked is that on an average weekday night in the summer, there are only five or six state troopers on duty out of Troop 7, Lewes, which covers the eastern half of the county.

As Bob Reed did some years ago, Sheriff Christopher is offering a modest proposal. He first wants to get his deputies certified as police officers, presumably by sending those who haven’t been already to the police academy run by the state police. Then he might even propose to add a few deputies to patrol those areas of the county where state troopers don’t often go. Back roads would be one. Non-municipal subdivisions might be another.

As noted above, in every state but Delaware and Connecticut, the sheriff’s department is the principal non-municipal law enforcement agency in a county. Connecticut does not have sheriffs at all. In many states, the state police are not nearly the law-enforcement agency we enjoy here in Delaware. Usually, such states have a highway patrol and that’s about all they do.

Delaware has an excellent state police department. Adding a sheriff’s department with police and arrest authority is no more a threat to the state police than the New Castle County Police Department is.

We noted that the upstate newspaper is doing backflips of apoplexy over Christopher’s proposal, which must make it a pretty good idea. Don’t tell me rural Sussex County doesn’t need a sheriff’s department with police power.

Reid K. Beveridge
Broadkill Beach


Bill Lee's blunt comments right on the mark

I appreciated Bill Lee's frank comments about Beebe Medical Center's position on the horrifying Dr. Bradley situation in Dennis Forney's Barefootin' column in the April 8 issue.

While so many public officials prefer to hide behind sugar-coated press releases and official statements, Bill, as the new chairman of Beebe's board of directors, made some blunt and honest comments that I'm sure rattled a few lawyers. But as Bill said, "Confidence [in Beebe] has gone up. I attribute that to the hospital's openness, despite our lawyers' objections."

He goes on to talk about Beebe's moral obligations and about taking care of the victims.

Bill Lee is right -- that kind of openness does make me confident in Beebe Medical Center as a valuable and committed local institution. And I think Beebe ought to be confident that it has chosen the right person to lead the board -- someone with his finger on the pulse of the community at large.

Bill Lee has never been shy about speaking his mind, so the lawyers might as well get used to it.

Terry Plowman
Rehoboth Beach

Lewes in Bloom lifts my spirits - thank you

During the spring of 2010 I became a widow. On bad days I would walk around Lewes and be cheered by the beautiful plantings on display in our town. Each week, with diligent and loving care by the volunteers, the flowers became more bountiful and my spirits lifted.

What a gift to citizens and tourists alike. These flowers have become an intrinsic part of the look of our town. Thank you Lewes in Bloom and all who make it happen.

Jackie Finer


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