Deputies Address Public Safety Funding At County Budget Hearing

Deputies Address Public Safety Funding At County Budget Hearing
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SNOW HILL – Members of the local law enforcement community asked for funding support from county officials at this week’s budget hearing.

Several members of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 50 spoke at Tuesday night’s budget hearing hosted by the Worcester County Commissioners. They talked about recruitment challenges and the need for competitive pay at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.
“We are in unprecedented times in law enforcement,” said Mike Valerio, FOP vice president.

Valerio said he was speaking on behalf of the FOP lodge, which is primarily made up of deputies from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. He thanked elected officials for their past support and said it was needed more than ever as law enforcement faced challenges like the new laws now in place in Maryland as well as the ongoing struggles of recruitment and retention.

He said many of the county’s deputies were officers who’d retired from other agencies.

“These deputies work in all divisions and bring with them decades of knowledge and experience,” he said. “Over the next few years this job will be less attractive than it already is. We worry that attrition will leave positions vacant as fewer men and women will want to stay in this profession after retiring.”

He said it was hard to get new recruits as well but that the deputies the county did have were dedicated.

“The honor and responsibility of wearing the star on our chest is something that is not lost on us,” Valerio said. “We strive to be the best at what we do because we love our community, we love our schools and we love what this office stands for.”

He said the institutional knowledge and specialized skills of the office’s deputies made it what it was.

“As surrounding agencies take actions to mitigate their losses, we hope to prevent that from happening here,” he said.

FOP member Scott Griffin also spoke in support of the need for salary increases at the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. He said he’d joined the office after retiring from an agency in the Baltimore area. He said that while he was busier there, working in Worcester County provided different challenges.

“While assisting in patrol in Worcester County I quickly learned that when dispatched to a call your backup can be 30-40 minutes away,” he said, noting that was a long time when an officer was dealing with a combative traffic stop or domestic incident. “The men and women serving Worcester County everyday handle calls and stop cars knowing help may be a long time away.”

He said that the starting salary for a deputy in Worcester County was about $49,000 while a 15-year sergeant made about $73,000. He said in Baltimore County, starting salary was $65,000 and a 15-year sergeant made $122,000.

“The dangers facing the men and women in Worcester County with the lack of backup and the rural area spread out is no less dangerous,” he said. “These deputies deserve the utmost support from the county.”

Local resident Carol Frazier, a member of the Worcester County Police Accountability Board, said she’d been impressed with what she’d seen of the local law enforcement agencies.

“We really do have the best here,” she said. “In order to retain them they need to be compensated adequately.”

Keith Newton, another FOP member, described some of the dangers he’s faced in his decades as a law enforcement officer.

“That one thought of being murdered while doing our job separates us and makes us different from any other profession in this county and in this country,” he said.

Newton asked spouses and children of law enforcement officers in attendance to stand.

“Commissioners, when you retire to chambers to deliberate on this budget, I’d like you to remember these faces,” he said, adding that deputies took an oath when they joined the profession. “We did so because we know God only puts but so many protectors on this earth. All we ask is to be compensated justly.”

In addition to police, Ocean City Fire Chief Richie Bowers spoke to the commissioners Tuesday. He praised the efforts of the county’s fire funding work group and the funding issues addressed in recent years.

“Your investments have made improvements in the emergency services response capacity, system resiliency and emergency response times,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said there were still challenges that needed to be overcome. He said the fire companies were requesting an additional $10,000 per ambulance as well as increases in the mileage and per-run allotments. He said local companies were also struggling to attract and retain qualified EMS providers.

“We ask that you consider some funding for us so we can address some of those inequities,” he said.

Bowers said he was grateful for the commissioners’ efforts to work with local fire and EMS companies.

“We really enjoy the partnership we have developed,” he said.

The commissioners are expected to discuss the proposed FY 2024 budget next week. It is set to be adopted in June.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.