Fenwick Island Votes To Acquire Four Free Vehicles

FENWICK ISLAND – Fenwick Island officials have agreed to utilize a federal surplus program to acquire free vehicles and equipment for town use.

Late last month, the Fenwick Island Town Council agreed to have Police Chief John Devlin obtain four vehicles and one backhoe free of charge through the Law Enforcement Support Office, or LESO program.

“We’ve been involved with LESO for many years,” Devlin said. “This is the first time we have the opportunity to obtain vehicles and equipment that’s much needed for the department, particularly in hurricanes and inclement weather.”

By way of background, the LESO program allows the transfer of excess Department of Defense equipment – from clothing and office supplies to vehicles and rifles – to law enforcement agencies across the country.

Since its inception in 1997, the program has transferred more than $7.5 billion worth of property, according to the LESO website. Of all the excess equipment provided through the program, only 5% are small arms and less than 1% are tactical vehicles.

Devlin told town leader that while the Fenwick Island Police Department had been a member of LESO for years, this would be the first time the agency had an opportunity to acquire much-needed vehicles and equipment, which is distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

This year, program officials have approved the town’s requests for a high-water vehicle, a Humvee, a Ford F150 pickup truck, a Kubota Mule all-terrain vehicle and a backhoe.

Devlin added that the town could sell or dispose of any vehicles or equipment after a year has passed.

“The items we would be looking for would be for things we need,” he told the council. “A lot of other departments got in trouble because they were looking at making money, and that’s not where I’m coming from. It’s great that at the end of the time if we don’t need it we can sell it to get a profit for it. But that’s not the goal we are looking at here for the police department.”

Devlin said the acquisition of the vehicles would benefit the town during times of flooding and inclement weather. He said officials realized the need for a high-water vehicle after recent flooding events.

“With a vehicle like this we can go through three feet of water,” he said. “It can access the beach, drive on the beach in an emergency, and can go on almost any terrain … We will be able to rescue residents if needed.”

Devlin added that the Humvee and Kubota Mule would also be used during emergency situations, while the Ford F150 would be used by town employees.

“Right now, during COVID, they are recommending individual vehicles for individual people,” he said. “This will help the town to be able to have a vehicle for each employee. At a cost of nothing, it’s a perfect addition I believe.”

Councilman Mike Houser asked if the town had set aside funds to maintain and operate the vehicles.

“That’s the small downside,” Devlin replied. “There will be operation costs as far as oil changes. A lot of equipment that comes with these vehicles we can get, like tires and equipment, from LESO when they are available.”

Devlin said the police department would be responsible for picking up the vehicles and equipment from their respective locations. He noted, however, that his department had officers with experience in operating the vehicles.

Devlin also pointed out that other town departments and municipalities could utilize the vehicles for emergency management. He said most of the vehicles and equipment would be stored onsite.

When asked about the vehicles’ condition, Devlin said he was unsure.

“When we get there, we can inspect them and we can drive them,” he said. “If we deem they are not for us or there’s too much repair, we can skip it and acquire something else.”

Town Manager Terry Tieman highlighted both the benefits and drawbacks of acquiring LESO property. She said the town should take maintenance, insurance and auditing fees into account.

“We want to be upfront and transparent about it …,” she said. “We want council to recognize they are free but there is a cost to acquiring it.”

After further discussion, the council voted unanimously to acquire the four vehicles and the backhoe.

The council also voted to implement an approval process for acquiring LESO property in the future.

“We have a two-week decision period, whether we want to go get this equipment or not,” Tieman said. “If so, I would like council to approve some kind of decision model.”

According to town officials, the police chief must consult with the town manager, mayor and infrastructure committee chair before obtaining items through the LESO program valued at more than $5,000.

“When decisions are made for larger acquisitions, council should be informed,” Councilwoman Vicki Carmean suggested.

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.