Police Powers, Deputies
Photo: Sussex County Sheriff Robert Reed during the 2002 campaign.
Sussex County Sheriff Robert Reed on Tuesday, June 3, 2003 pitched a plan to the Sussex County Council to eventually expand his department to 45 deputies who would patrol unincorporated areas of the county.
Reed, who has battled the county council and state officials to expand both the size and the scope of his department since taking office four years ago, presented a proposal that he said is a "cheaper alternative" to the county/state partnership through which the county plans to pay for 20 additional state troopers by 2007.
Council members were skeptical of Reed's proposal, which is in contrast to both the county's proposed budget and the projection he initially submitted to county officials for that budget.
While the Sheriff's office is an elected position, county council controls the funding the office receives.
The budget presented by County Administrator Robert Stickels in May calls for a 25 percent increase in spending for the sheriff's department -- from $365,238 this year to $457,611 in 2004.
That includes implementation of a new computer system to help increase efficiency in the department, training for the existing four deputies, and purchase of one new vehicle. Reed had asked for a 43 percent increase, to include $40,000 for new computers, two new cars and the addition of a fifth deputy.
In his new projections, however, Reed proposes using $953,000, which he called the county's State Police Fund, to fund the largest chunk of the projected $2.2 million Reed believes his plan will cost. In 2004, Reed proposes adding 12 deputies and increasing the total staff from 7.5 full-time employees to 31.
The county's figures are a bit different, showing $906,000 budgeted for the county's share of 12 troopers stationed at the Delaware State Police Georgetown barracks. By 2007, the county plans to help fund 20 state police troopers.
For 2004, Reed's plan includes renting a satellite office in the Roxana area. Deputies would stay on the road and communicate through laptop computers to the central office in Georgetown. In fiscal 2005, Reed would add three more satellite offices in Long Neck, Lincoln and Laurel. These offices, Reed said, would be used for area residents to meet with deputies and file complaints.
Reed's plan calls for revenues to come from a combination of grants, sheriff's sale proceeds, fines, civil proceedings such as subpoenas, and contributions from businesses and communities.
Reed said in an interview on Monday, June 2, that his proposal would not necessitate a tax increase, and although there would be start-up costs in 2004 and 2005, by 2006 Reed expects the program to begin to show a surplus.
The sheriff's plan got a less than warm reception from county council members. "I've got some grave concerns," council member Dale Dukes, D-Laurel, said. Dukes said he feels Reed has overstated his revenues and understated his costs in his proposal. "At this time, I feel we're getting the most bang for our buck with our partnership with the Delaware State Police," Dukes said.
Council President Lynn Rogers, D-Milton, expressed concern over Reed's projection that each of his deputies could bring in $37,764 per year -- with a minimum of two traffic citations each day.
"We'd about have to be a police state to make that kind of money," Rogers said. Reed responded that "we're not out here to set out speed traps," but Rogers said he still has concerns. "I don't want to see an officer mandated to a quota a day," he said.
County Finance Director David Baker said his concerns are with the long-term costs of such an expansion.
"In the long run, within a few years, we are in for major costs, a major impact on our budget," Baker said.
He added that Reed's estimates of fines to be collected by the sheriff's deputies are considerably higher than the averages of other police departments across the state. Dover officers collect the most of any department in the state, at $11,000 per officer per year, Baker said.
Stickels said putting more funds in the sheriff's department by reducing the county's rainy day fund could negatively affect the county's borrowing capacity.
The council will consider Reed's proposal in addition to the overall county budget proposal during a June 17 public hearing on the budget.
Reed said he will not give up on his quest to expand the sheriff's department. "If you vote it down, we'll be back again," he said.
Reed won re-election in November 2002 on a platform of expanding the department and giving it the law enforcement powers he believes it is mandated to perform by the State of Delaware Constitution.
Reed earned 56.3 percent of the vote to the 43.7 percent earned by Marshall Craft Sr., who pledged to continue the department's current duties of serving papers. Craft said he would not seek law enforcement powers for the department in his campaign.
County and state officials have disagreed with Reed, saying the sheriff's department is not a law enforcement body. The state's Department of Public Safety ordered Reed to remove emergency lights from his department's vehicles and Reed sued Director of Public Safety James Ford and Attorney General M. Jane Brady in January 2002.
During his first term in 2001, Reed presented a proposal to expand his department to 32 officers to help ease the county's policing problems, but council opted in 2002 to go with a plan similar to one proposed by Sen. George Bunting to fund more state police officers in the county.
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