Sussex County Delaware

Residents: F.I. Council
Lied About Police Chief

Fenwick Island Town Council

Say Chief Had Not Been
Reprimanded Before

SC Online Content Editor

Two residents charged Fenwick Island Town Council with lying about the police chief's personnel record at council's regular meeting on Friday, July 26, 2002.

The residents were responding to claims by council members at last month's council meeting that Police Chief George Dickerson had been reprimanded before a series of reprimands following a Freedom of Information Act complaint filed by the chief and Major William Manning in March.

At last month's meeting, Dickerson said the reprimands he had received since March were the first reprimands he had received in his nine years of service with the town. Council members, however, said they were not the first Dickerson had received.

Resident William Wiestling said that after the June council meeting, he asked Dickerson if he could review his personnel record. Wiestling said the chief gave him the record and he found no reprimands before March 2002.

That was when Dickerson and Manning filed FOIA complaints against the council, which alleged the council held illegal closed meetings, where they discussed the shortage of police officers. Three of the department's six officers left in January.

Dickerson has said in recent months that he, Manning and Sgt. Michael Bruette have been harassed by council members, particularly Police Commissioner Edward "Buzz" Henifin, including a barrage of memos regarding police scheduling, vacations, uniforms and leaves.

He said he was reprimanded after giving a report at the May meeting on the status of hiring officers -- because he did not receive the council's permission to release the information.

Henifin interrupted Wiestling in the middle of his statement to say the recent reprimands "had nothing to do with" the FOIA complaints.

Resident Chris Clark said he, too, asked Dickerson if he could review his record, and he, too, was permitted to do so. He said he did not find any reprimands prior to March, and said the chief "seemed to be slandered a little bit at the last meeting."

When Clark asked why the council said Dickerson's statement about the reprimands was not true, Mayor Peg Baunchalk's only response was to thank him for his comments.

Other residents expressed concerns about police coverage, particularly during the July 24-25 Cottage Tour sponsored by the South Coastal Library.

Bay Street resident Ed Ranck said parking problems on Bay, Indian and James streets were "out of control" during the tour. Ranck said Dickerson told him he was told by the town council not to patrol those areas during the tour.

Indian Street resident James Ellis asked the council, "Where in the bylaws does it say you can dictate who to arrest, what to do.?"

Meanwhile, Ranck said, children -- apparently library volunteers-- were directing traffic during the tour. "You have no idea the liability you took on, having underage children directing traffic down there," Ranck said.

Council member Peter Frederick responded that the town was attempting to support the library by not issuing parking tickets during the tour. "We screwed up. We'll do better next time," he said.

Another resident, Tami Beam of Atlantic Street, expressed concerns about the lack of police coverage, particularly at the Royal Farm store which her home backs up to.

She said "a lot of intoxicated people" often congregate at the rear of the store, and that fights are common. She said she has called 911 for police assistance, and was told that Fenwick Island does not provide police on Saturday nights. "It's unnerving to think there's nobody here and you're witnessing fights outside your window," Beam said.

Henifin said that with the addition of two recruits, Fenwick Island's police will be able to provide 24-hour coverage with the exception of one 8-hour shift. Dickerson said two recruits, Robert W. Smull Jr. and Ethan M. Kaplan, are in the midst of an accelerated training schedule to enable them to patrol solo by Sept. 3.

He said he has worked with state trainers to put together the compressed 240-hour training schedule and that he believes Fenwick Island is the first police department in the state to do so.

He also said he had to reschedule instructors for the training after another recruit dropped out two weeks into training because he didn't feel he could support his family on the $25,500 starting salary for Fenwick officers.

The addition of the two recruits brings the department to five officers -- the chief, a part-time seasonal officer, and an administrative assistant -- one officer short of the staffing level before the three officers left in January.

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