BERLIN – Long-time Worcester County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Reggie Mason this week was officially sworn in as the new sheriff after a successful election last month and is now preparing for a smooth transition for the department.
Mason and new Chief Deputy Dale Smack were officially sworn in during a special ceremony in Snow Hill on Monday and the new sheriff has hit the ground running. His overall goal is maintaining the continuity of his predecessor, Sheriff Chuck Martin, who held the post for 16 years, while adding his own initiatives and programs to better serve the entire county.
This week, Mason took time out of his busy schedule for an interview with The Dispatch during which he outlined some of his priorities, programs and initiatives for his new office, some of which are already underway. The following are some of the excerpts from that conversation:
(BOLD)On a smooth transition:
I’m very lucky. I’ve got great people here. I was chief deputy for over 24 years and I was involved in a lot of the hiring here. It’s a great agency and I’m very proud of them. My job is to make sure they come to work safe and go home to their family safe. I worry about my people just like the sheriff before me, Sheriff Martin. We always worried about our people. I was born and raised in this county and I care about this county. I have relatives in this county from Pocomoke to St. Martin’s Neck and I care about our people here. I want people to go out at night to a movie or go shopping and feel safe. That’s my job.
On increasing the department’s presence throughout the county:
I’m going to have command staff, lieutenants and above, work night patrol. The sheriff let me start this about two months ago. I brought this idea up to him. A lot of times, we leave here at five or six in the evening, but if the public calls here, they want to talk to someone in command. I don’t want the public to have to wait until morning to talk to a lieutenant or higher-up. This way, 911 can put them right through to somebody in command.
I plan on making some promotions after the first of the year and they’re going to be accessible. Somebody in command is going to be out there and is going to be able to answer the questions. We’re doing it already. I’ve personally been doing it for about four months. I want to see first-hand what is going on in this county, and I want to let the public know that I’m out here, that we’re out here. You can’t just sit behind a desk. I want to see what my deputies need and what’s going on out there. It’s been working great. I want to boost up our patrols, so I’m going with a 4-3 program where my people work 10-hour days, sometimes four days a week. I learned that from Lee Duggan when he was chief in Ocean City. It allows us to almost double our coverage with the same manpower during the most active times on the streets and in our communities.
On new hires:
My biggest thing right now is adding more deputies to the road patrol. Right now, I have four vacancies and we’re in the process of filling them and I’m looking at these new people. I’m looking at hiring kids that have grown up in this county and giving them the opportunity to work in the Sheriff’s Office. Anyone living outside Worcester County that we hire will have one year to move into the county. Recently we hire five people, four of which are going through the last two stages. I’ll be sending four through the police academy and I think that’s the first time ever we’ve had that many.
On getting back into the communities:
I want to be a community police agency. I want to put more of our deputies back into community policing and neighborhood watch programs. I’m a firm believer in neighborhood watch programs, educating the public, what to look out for in their neighborhoods. A community police deputy is great. He or she gets to know a lot of people in the small towns. They get good information from the people in the towns and see a lot. We got away from this a couple of years ago, but I definitely want to get back into it. Years ago, when I was first here, we had deputies out in the communities riding bicycles. They had better contact with the public rather than just riding around in the car all the time. I want the residents to know they have a deputy they can talk to. If we get our manpower issues straightened out, I’d love to have one on the south end and one in the north end to go into our small communities.
On the need to finish Route 113:
That’s a priority for me. I want to do my part to make sure that gets done and gets done in a timely fashion. Every one of us who travel that road knows how dangerous it is. It’s one of the most dangerous roads in the country and the statistics bear that out. Years back, I was talking with a State Highway official and he said we’re all probably going to be dead before that’s finished and now, I’m starting to think he might have been right. There is just no way they can’t get that highway finished. When they start to do a highway project on the other side of that bridge, they don’t start until it’s finished. We need to get mobilized and unified in a single voice and tell them we want it done. That’s a priority.
On underage alcohol and tobacco sales:
The other big thing I’m after is the sale of alcohol and tobacco to teenagers. We’re going to do a lot of spot checks. The main thing is talking to the business owners and making sure that they inform their employees about the laws. We’re going to spot-check them and we’re going to have our cadets go in and try to make buys. I don’t want to put anybody out of business, but I don’t want them selling alcohol and tobacco to the teenagers. That’s going to be one of our priorities.
On managing the department’s budget:
My big thing is, I worry about my budget. I know times are very tough, but I want to get the very best training for my people. I had the opportunity when I was with the OCPD. Chief Duggan sent everyone of us to so many schools and specialized classes to make us better professionals and I want to give the same opportunities to my people. I want to give them the very best equipment to do their job. Anything we need to find in our budget to let our people better protect themselves, we’re going to find a way to do it. I’m looking at ways to save anything I can in our budget to allow us to do the things that are most important. If that means filling jobs with part-timers and retirees, I’m going to do it.
On making tough decisions:
If I see something that isn’t working, I’m going to make the tough decisions. They might not always be the most popular decisions, but I’m going to do what’s best for this county and my people. I’m always willing to give 100-percent and I expect the people working for me to do the same. If I see something that isn’t working, I’m going to make the tough choices. I’ve learned to treat people the way you like to be treated, but I’m not afraid of discipline. I’m a former Marine Corps sergeant and I’m going to run a tight ship. We have rules and regulations and that’s what they’re there for.
On forging good relationships:
I want to work with our neighbors and form new and better partnerships. We have a great partnership with Virginia and we have people deputized in Virginia and they have a Virginia state trooper and three Accomack County sheriff’s deputies deputized here. We’ve been working great crossing the lines in and around the Pocomoke area and we’ve made some nice busts. It’s working great. We’re also going to help Somerset County and Wicomico County with any resources they need. If we work together, it makes our county that much safer.
Crime doesn’t know physical boundaries. If they need anything, they’ll get it, and they’ll do the same for us. Chief DiPino is going to assign me some personnel to help with the drug problem, because it’s not only in the south end but all over the county including Ocean City. She’s going to help us with manpower. That’s what its all about, helping your neighbor. We’re all going to work together in the county. We’ve already talked about what we can help each other with and we’re going to team up, the same thing with Pocomoke, Berlin, and Snow Hill. It’s not about one individual agency. It’s all about working as a good team and helping each other. I’ve had nothing so far but great support from all the chiefs. I’d love to work more with Delaware because we’re one of the only counties that borders two states. There are opportunities for partnerships there and we’re already exploring them.
On the take-home vehicle policy:
A lot of these people are school resource officers, drug enforcement officers and SWAT team members. When I need them, I need them. Once they hit that county line, they know where they’re going and what the situation is. I don’t need them driving to the county line in their personal car and picking up one of our cars when they get here. You can lose a lot of time doing that. When I need my specialized people, I need them right away. Now, if gas prices skyrocket or it becomes too expensive, I’ll address that when the time comes, but it’s not a big problem now.
Why it became such a big issue during the election I don’t know, but some of the figures put out there about the cost of our take-home vehicle policy were just inaccurate. In county, they can use their vehicle off duty. Out of county, they can’t. In county, it’s good to see them out in their cars when they go out. They have to check in when they’re on duty and when they have to go off duty. It’s all about high visibility.
On the use of part-timers:
Part-timers save the taxpayers of this county money and they free up more manpower for me. I’ve also hired a part-time detective to work with the child advocacy program, who works with crimes involving children. We got a grant to pay for the position, and while we don’t know how long the grant will last, by hiring him part time, I’ll be able to keep him when the grant runs out. It’s so important to have this deputy work the child cases.
I also have a part-time deputy that tracks sex offenders in the county. We have about 60 right now he keeps track of. U.S. Marshals have teamed up with us on this. If one leaves our county, we contact the U.S. Marshals and they will be on their track. Our part-time deputy does an outstanding job with this. He keeps a close tab on where they reside, where they work and he does an outstanding job.