New Castle County’s police department gains 15 positions
New Castle County Council approved expanding the county police force from 400 to 415 officers Tuesday—a move the County Executive supports.
The 15 officers will be part of a police academy class starting in May. The expansion is expected to cost taxpayers close to $2 million per year in the short term.
County police chief Col. Vaughn Bond, Jr., told council members in a committee meeting Tuesday the expansion is needed to meet the staffing demands of the body camera program and specialized units such as the behavioral health unit— as well as to address population growth.
“We’re seeing the growth in northern New Castle County, but what is concerning to us is the future of southern New Castle County, when we’re talking about the projected growth that’s going to take place down there,” Bond said. “We’re looking at what the future holds.”
Councilman Dave Carter, who represents part of southern New Castle County, echoed this concern.
“There’s no doubt that we are desperately behind, particularly south of the canal, and need these officers,” Carter said.
Bond characterized the growth in the county’s police force over the last 15 years as a “slow process.”
“I’m not quite sure that the authorized strength has really kept pace with the overall growth of New Castle County, and certainly not in southern New Castle County,” Bond told council members Tuesday.
But this is misleading. Since 2005, the county’s police force has grown faster than its population.
According to Bond, the last expansion of the police force was in 2015, to 400 officers. That’s an increase of more than 11 percent from the police department’s 359 officers in 2005. During that ten-year period, the county’s population grew by less than 7 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
The new expansion will likely widen this discrepancy. When the academy class starts in May, the police force will have expanded more than 15 percent since 2005, while the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent population estimate, for 2019, puts county population growth at less than 7 percent since then.
Councilman Bill Bell, whose district is in the southern part of the county, said Tuesday he would like to see a process created for regular expansion of the police department going forward.
Just one council member, Jea Street, Sr., opposed the expansion Tuesday. Street, who represents part of New Castle and the City of Wilmington, said the number of shootings happening now shows current police tactics aren’t working. He said he’d rather see the money spent on social services.
“We need more than police,” Street said. “If you lock up all this money in the police budget, then there’s nowhere to grab the money for the kind of street workers, the interventions … the prevention programs.”
Councilman Penrose Hollins, who represents part of the City of Wilmington, voted ‘present.’
Bond told council members a staffing increase is needed to allow patrol officers to spend more time on “proactive” policing.
“The goal that we have … is for our officers to spend one third of their time on citizen-generated calls for service, another third of their time on proactive policing, and the last third of their time on administrative duties,” Bond said.
Carter said he thinks this estimate is on the “low side,” and that county police should be spending 50 percent of their time on proactive policing to familiarize themselves with the issues within communities.
Council delayed approving the police expansion late last year over confusion about the full price tag.
An updated fiscal note on the legislation estimates the new positions will cost nearly $130,000 by the end of this fiscal year in June, more than $1.7 million next fiscal year and more than $1.8 million the following.