(Dec. 14, 2017) Pocomoke Police Chief William Harden wants at least one more police officer on staff, advising the City Council last Monday that only two officers generally patrol the entire town.
According to the department’s most recent crime statistics Pocomoke Police answered 20,503 calls for service from Jan. 1 through Dec. 5 and made 391 arrests.
Of the 140 reported crimes, the majority were assault (85) and burglary (46). There also was one murder, four instances of rape and four robberies. Additionally, 25 juveniles were arrested.
Calls for service were slightly down from the previous year’s 21,753, but instances of crime are up, from 122, with most of this December not yet included.
Harden said calls for service did not include the Pocomoke City Walmart, which accounts for about 300 calls each year.
Pocomoke Police also assisted the Worcester County Criminal Enforcement Team, which, during the last two years, made 27 arrests, issued 19 search warrants and seized two vehicles and four firearms in Pocomoke City. Drug seizures included more than 1,000 grams of marijuana, over 1,250 grams of cocaine and 12 grams of heroin, along with $28,120 in cash.
“I know the timing for this request is probably not the best. I realize we have quality of life issues that may supersede some of the other issues within in the City of Pocomoke, but at the same time I need to speak up for our department and our city,” Harden said.
The shortage of officers on duty can be troublesome, Harden said, especially if a suspect has to be transferred to the hospital such as Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury.
“For that time that …one officer is gone to PRMC, I have one officer working the city. If we get something heavy that goes down, we call Worcester County,” he said. “They have graciously helped us out with some of the calls, [but] I think we should be a self-sustaining police department.
“I feel very uncomfortable with just having that one officer on the street in our city until the other officer returns to duty. It’s the same thing if we lock someone up,” Harden continued. “On a good day, [police have] three officers on the street. Average day? Two officers on the street. I don’t even like saying that in public, but it’s the truth.”
He said the lack of manpower also restricts police coverage of Route 113, where busts of drug and cigarette smuggling, and potentially human trafficking, could occur more regularly.
“That would be my intent, is to get somebody out there periodically, a little bit more than we could now,” he said. “I get a lot of flak from some individuals in the community and maybe even some members of the council about us working on Route 113 … but I can tell you I just talked to Sheriff [Reggie] Mason last week. As we say in police work, ‘13 is banging.’”
Harden said $68,000 in seized money was used to purchase two new police vehicles, replacing “two very old vehicles.” He guessed about $17,000 from cigarette smuggling busts would also come back to the department.
“Our goal … would not be to leave the city null and void,” Harden said. “I would actually make a special traffic and enforcement group. They could cover things like the mayor’s Christmas event [and] the parade … in order for me to do that now, as chief, I’ve gotta call people in, if available, on overtime.”
He said police were already down two officers, because one recently retired and another moved on.
City Manager Bobby Cowger said those two positions were budgeted for.
“I’m here to ask to fill additional officers beyond that number,” Harden said. “In doing so I believe that will reduce our overtime spending.”
Harden said he recently had a discussion with Mayor Bruce Morrison, who asked if he needed a police captain.
“I said I don’t need a captain. I have two lieutenants that are very capable – extremely capable – of running the department when I’m not there,” he said. “I said, ‘I need officers.’”
According to Harden, Morrison encouraged him to approach the City Council.
“Having more officers allows us to be more proactive instead of reactive,” he said.
The cost to hire a new officer can vary, depending on whether it’s a cadet or “lateral transfer” from another agency.
According to estimates provided by Pocomoke Police, cadets, including six-months of salary in the police academy ($24,343), can run $78,610 for the first year.
Certified officers, Harden’s preferred approach, cost about $74,000, including $46,363 in salary and $27,643 in benefits.
Harden said the national average salary for a plain-clothes police officer is between $60,000 and $65,000.
“Looking at the numbers, it’s kinda scary and I get that,” Harden said. “But I believe, between overtime and some of the other savings and some of the other plans that I have to bring money in, be they grants or be they any particular stops we might make out on [Route] 13 … I think the city will recoup any money that you put out for these additional officers.”
He said Pocomoke Police would send one officer through the academy in January and expected him to start in about eight months. Another hire, a lateral transfer, could occur soon. Harden said he had a third officer in mind, if the council approved.
Councilwoman Esther Troast said she is Harden’s “number-one fan,” but asked for Finance Director Janet Wilson to look over the budget before the council commits.
“We’re trying to be very conscious with our dollars right now,” Troast said. “First responders, in my opinion, [are] very, very important, but … we would like to know that that money’s there before we approve it.”
She suggested a vote occur during the next scheduled City Council meeting, Jan. 8.