Following up on community’s concerns about crime

A frequent concern that I hear about from constituents is the public’s perception of the rate of crime in the Long Neck/Oak Orchard area and the subsequent response by law enforcement.

It’s a concern that I continue to take very seriously and the reason why I sponsored three community town hall events over the course of a month between April and May. In fact, one of the meetings directly dealt with Delaware’s growing opioid and heroin abuse problem. The Drug Enforcement Administration attended to address law enforcement’s ongoing joint efforts to tackle the epidemic in Sussex County, specifically.

The most recent public meeting just a few weeks ago at Long Neck Elementary was sponsored by Senators Gerald Hocker and Brian Pettyjohn and me. The community forum featured a large contingent of law enforcement officers, including a presence by Delaware State Police and Delaware Probation and Parole, as well as officials from Sussex County government.

The May 15 meeting gave Long Neck/Oak Orchard residents an opportunity to share their specific concerns with police and to ask them directly about the efforts being made to ensure their communities are as safe as possible.

State Rep. Ruth Briggs King

While the perception may be that the amount of crime is on the increase in the Long Neck/Oak Orchard area, for the most part, police are noticing reductions in the rate of crime.

Delaware State Police report that between May 2015 and April 2017, there has been a 2 percent decrease in the number of criminal complaints in Long Neck. During that same time period, police saw a 25 percent drop in the number of what are called “field service reports” (i.e., alarms, checks on someone’s welfare, suspicious car/person, etc.).

In addition, the five-year crime data in Long Neck (between 2013 and 2017) shows overall reductions in the number of rapes, thefts, burglaries, and vehicle thefts. In fact, the only increase during that five-year time frame was found in the amount of robberies, which spiked only this year because of three recent incidents in the area.

Although we asked meeting attendees to submit questions in advance to make sure things proceeded in an orderly fashion and to avoid a duplication of questions, almost every question that was submitted was answered by either law enforcement or the county.

However, for those few questions that may have not been addressed at the meeting or were in need of additional follow-up by our guest speakers, we have taken the time to answer those as well. A letter will be sent to each attendee with the additional responses. Here are a few that are worth sharing now:

What year was the State Police presence increased in Sussex? What was the population then and what is it now?

Response: Sussex County contracted with the state of Delaware to provide additional Delaware State Police trooper coverage in the county in 1994. At that time, the State Base for Delaware State Police was 96 troopers and the population was 124,000. The county and the state have added troopers to Sussex County throughout the life of the contract. The most recent report shows there are 193 troopers allocated in Sussex and the population is approximately 220,251 (U.S. Census for 2016).

What can be done about abandoned houses in our neighborhood?

Response: The Sussex County Constable and Planning and Zoning Department can investigate abandoned houses as property maintenance rules still apply to these types of properties. Please call (302) 855-7819.

Please explain the funding for the 44 DSP that Sussex County Council is funding.

Response: Since the agreement in 1994, Sussex County has provided funds directly to the state of Delaware for additional Delaware State Police Troopers. In recent years, the state paid one-half of the cost of 44 troopers and the county paid one-half of the cost of 44 troopers. For the FY2018 budget, the county has been asked to pay the “true cost” of 22 troopers which equals $2,936,245, a $678,866 increase. To date, the county has not approved its FY2018 budget.

Prior to the May 15 forum, I also reached out to Secretary Robert Coupe with the Delaware Department of Safety & Homeland Security to share a few ideas that I believe should be considered in the coming months. Perhaps, State Police and Sussex County should review the formula that determines the allocation of troopers to Sussex County and our growing eastern corridor. Additionally, we must explore the impact of the seasonal population in eastern Sussex County. Perhaps, we should also consider extending the retirement age of troopers beyond the mandatory age of 55 and/or allowing retired troopers to meet specific demands during peak times without impacting their retirement benefits.

In addition, I’ve had meetings with the president from the newly-formed citizens group – Long Neck Strong (www.longneckstrong.com) – as well as local business owners. We will continue to work together and share resources. Increased awareness and prevention are key to our safety at home and while away.  I am also requesting that DSP provide a “business” safety training event for small businesses in the Long Neck and Oak Orchard area. They are not served by a local chamber of commerce and could benefit from such an event.

Without a doubt, more can and needs to be done to improve the safety of the Long Neck/Oak Orchard area. But, it’s a work in progress that together with law enforcement, Sussex County, and the community at large we can achieve what we all desire – a safe and thriving community.

Editor’s Note: State Rep. Ruth Briggs King of Georgetown represents the 37th District in Delaware’s General Assembly.

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