administrative officer David Singleton, its
second-ranking official, categorically denied that
the Coons administration is attempting to play
politics with the county police force.
Before County Council enacted
an ordinance removing the police chief position from the
merit system and giving the county executive near-absolute
power to hire or fire its occupant, Singleton told Council's
public safety committee that there is no intention to do the
same with any other positions in the Police Department. The
department also includes the paramedics and 9-1-1 emergency
Under questioning, however,
he did acknowledge that the administration does intend to
ask the state General Assembly to exempt the county police
chief from provisions of the Police Chiefs Bill of Rights.
The main effect of that would be to remove from the
dismissal process the option to demand a hearing before
Singleton noted that both
executive appointment authority and the exemption exist for
the Wilmington police chief and the superintendent of state
Semantically speaking, he
said, the appointment process called for in the new
ordinance is more accurately 'an executive appointment' and
not a 'political appointment' as it has been referred to in
some quarters. The only limitation is that County Council
has to confirm any appointment.
He said County Executive
Christopher Coons is committed to hire a qualified
professional to fill the existing police chief vacancy.
Public safety director Guy Sapp backed that up with a
detailed description of a new process which will use police
officers and officials from outside the state to examine the
credentials not only of applicants to be police chief but
also of officers seeking promotion..
In other matters related to
county police, the committee was told:
• The previously promised
consultant study of the size, organization and deployment of
the force is underway.
• The county intends to
provide some police support to the city of Wilmington this
summer, but not to the extent that city officials have
requested nor what was provided last year.
The police chief ordinance
was enacted at Council's plenary session on Jan. 24 by a
10-to-2 vote with a minimum of discussion. However, it came
in for extensive discussion beforehand at the public safety
committee meeting. Council committee meetings are open to
the public, but are held in the afternoon and attended by
considerably fewer people than turn out for the evening
Councilman William Bell, who
ended up casting one of the negative votes, objected to the
ordinance on the grounds that it "denies [job] protection to
someone who has earned the right to serve as colonel of our
Inclusion of a provision
which gives a fired chief the option of reverting to former
rank, primarily in order to gather the 20 years of service
required for a full pension, did not mollify Bell. He
questioned how effective a demoted former chief would be as
a command officer.
When the measure and two
companion resolutions reached the floor, Bell attempted but
failed to amend the one pertaining to a new job description
to require that only officers holding the rank of captain,
major or lieutenant colonel be eligible for the top
position. The requirement that was approved includes senior
lieutenants among the eligibles.
A county police lieutenant
becomes a senior lieutenant after four years at that rank.
The designation carries slightly higher pay, but no
additional duties or authority. Bell argued that no
lieutenant has sufficient experience with higher command to
qualify to be chief.
Bell is chairman of the
public safety committee and a retired former head of the
9-1-1 emergency service.
He was joined in opposing the
ordinance and supporting the amendment by William Tansey who
argued at the committee meeting against removal of the chief
from the merit system. He said he didn't understand why a
police chief had to be in agreement with the philosophies of
the county executive when "the job is to enforce the law and
Council president Paul Clark
said the ordinance which went before Council was crafted
during an extended series of previously unpublicized
meetings attended by some Council members with
administration and police officials. Sapp said it had the
concurrence of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that is
the labor union representing county officers.
Clark said the main reason
for the ordinance was to assure "the ability of the county
executive to work with the chief of police."
Over the years, the position
has vacillated between being under the merit system and not.
Most recent change was in 2003 when the former
administration of County Executive Thomas Gordon reached
down into the ranks to promote David McAllister, then a
lieutenant, to chief. Before later creation of the public
safety director position, the police chief also was general
manager of the department. Gordon also had the General
Assembly bring the general managers of other departments,
whom he had appointed, into the system.
When Coons took office last
year, he had the Assembly reverse that for the civilian
departments, but not the police chief.
Tansy said it was his
impression that hiring Sapp as director of public safety
provided a general manager who served 'at the pleasure of
the executive' and put the police department onto the same
footing as other departments. The police chief reports to
the director of public safety.
In the wake of an audit and
an internal police investigation into a fund to finance
officers' off-duty assignments for private organizations,
McAllister resigned. The terms under which he did so have
never been fully revealed.
Scott McLaren currently is
serving as acting chief.
In addition to the chief's
position being open to application from county command
officers, Sapp said an executive search firm will seek
outside candidates. When the field is appropriately
narrowed, the International Association of Chiefs of Police
will provide 'assessors' to evaluate the candidates and
submit recommendations to Coons for final action.
That process, he said, will
take two to three months and cost approximately $20,000.
Councilman George Smiley said
he would prefer that preference be given to a candidate who
already is a county officer. "It would be more beneficial to
the department and the citizens of New Castle County to have
someone with that knowledge and experience," he said.
The promotion process, Sapp
explained, will be similar in that applicants will be
screened by panels of police officers and officials from
jurisdictions within driving range of northern Delaware
after taking the standard written test. It has become an
accepted practice for departments around the nation to
exchange personnel evaluators.
To avoid possibility of bias
or discrimination, he said everyone who seeks promotion
would go through the entire process and their final standing
on resulting promotion lists will be determined by a
composite score based on how they do during each of its
He said there are 34
sergeants who could apply for promotion to lieutenant and as
many as 160 officers who might want sergeant's stripes.
The consultant study by
Police Executive Research Firm, he said, has been divided
into two phases. The first, now underway at a cost of
$63,850, is a staff analysis. A decision has not yet been
made whether to proceed to the second phase, an
organizational review. If that is done, it will cost an
In part, the study will
review a 1999 report which pointed out "some shortcomings"
in the force and cover some of the same ground it did, Sapp
said. That report was never made pubic and, apparently, none
of its recommendations were ever implemented.
Councilman Jea Street, vice
chairman of the public safety committee, said he has read
the report and that it contains allegations of bias and lack
of ethnic and gender diversity on the force. "That [was not]
addressed in 1999 and has not been since," he said.
McLaren told the committee
that the county force does not have sufficient manpower to
provide all the assistance Wilmington wants. Specifically,
he is not able to agree to an extended commitment of 12
officers for a 30-day period.
Single-day assignment of
county officers to duty augmenting the city force will be
possible, he said.
And, he added, "we will
support Wilmington on a moment's notice in the event of an
Last summer, he explained,
officers sent into the city were drawn from those with
inside assignments. There was no reduction in normal patrols
of the rest of the county. This year, there are fewer county
officers available because of attrition, military duty,
vacations and the like. A new recruit class will not put
additional officers onto the force until late in the year.
Councilman Joseph Reda
suggested that the city could augment its police force if it
did such things as drop its community-access television
activity. "That's $800,000 [saved], which is eight more
officers just there," he said.