Mutual Assistance Agreement Rejected

FENWICK ISLAND – Citing concerns about liability and manpower, the town council last week rejected a mutual assistance agreement among three local police departments.

Last Friday, the Fenwick Island Town Council voted 5-2 to reject a mutual assistance agreement among the police departments of Fenwick Island, South Bethany and Ocean View.

In a workshop earlier this month, Fenwick Island Police Chief William Boyden presented the town council with a proposed agreement that would allow police officers from each of the three municipalities to perform routine non-emergency police duties in any of the three towns if requested.

Law enforcement officials argued the arrangement was voluntary and would allow the departments to combine resources and seek help in instances when an agency is shorthanded, among other things.

“The bottom line for the agreement is it really only gives the Fenwick Island Police Department and the Ocean View Police Department and the South Bethany Police Department arrest powers in each jurisdiction,” Boyden told the council earlier this month. “The agreement basically falls on the shoulders of each individual chief, so if the chief of Ocean View requests assistance other than in an emergency situation, I have the final say.”

It should be noted that the towns of South Bethany and Ocean View have approved the agreement. But when it was presented to the Fenwick Island Town Council last week for discussion and possible action, the majority of elected leaders voted to reject the proposal.

While he commended the police chief’s efforts, Councilman Bernie Merritt said he did not support a change in police department operations. He said he was also concerned about liability.

“I’m going to vote no for this, only because I think the status quo has really worked well,” he said.

Councilman Bill Weistling agreed, adding his own concerns about the police department’s manpower.

“We are a small force,” he said. “We only have five officers here now.”

Councilman Richard Mais, however, said he was in support of the mutual assistance agreement.

“I didn’t see any issues,” he said. “Our police officers will not be leaving town unless the chief approves it, and as far as liability issues are concerned, our insurance company will take care of those. I think there are benefits to it.”

Councilman Mike Houser said he was concerned rejecting the agreement would alter the public perception of Fenwick Island and its police force.

“I have a concern, and I voiced this in the last council meeting, with regard to the perception of the professionalism of our police force by nearby jurisdictions, as well as public perception of Fenwick not going forward in this,” he said. “I think that should be a major concern.”

Mayor Gene Langan said he did not support the agreement because he did not want police officers leaving town. Councilman Gardner Bunting added that the town could still aid other departments in emergency situations without the agreement.

“I think what we have is working very well, and any assistance that would be needed in an emergency will happen by way of dispatch anyway,” he said. “I see no need for the agreement.”

Councilwoman Vicki Carmean argued the geographical area was too large for the town’s police force to handle. She added that she liked the police department’s current organization, as well as its quick response times.

“At this point I don’t think we need to change what is working well,” she said.

A motion to approve the mutual assistance agreement among the three towns failed with Mais and Houser in favor and Weistling, Merritt, Langan, Bunting and Carmean opposed.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.