Sunday, February 17, 2008

Strathmere residents say police in demand

Strathmere residents say police in demand
By MICHAEL MILLER Staff Writer, 609-463-6712
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2008

UPPER TOWNSHIP - Inadequate policing tops the list of grievances Strathmere residents have against the township in their bid to join Sea Isle City.
At two Planning Board hearings this month, Strathmere residents recounted stories of long waits for State Police to respond to car accidents, attempted burglaries and even citizen arrests of vandals.
Upper Township, Dennis Township and Woodbine are served by the State Police in the Woodbine barracks. Troopers here patrol 132 square miles in northern Cape May County from Eldora to Marshallville to Strathmere.
Over the years, Strathmere developed a lawless reputation among tourists and residents alike who light bonfires and shoot fireworks.
"It's a frontier mentality out here," Strathmere resident Randy Roash said.
In response, the Strathmere Improvement Association and the volunteer fire company pooled their money to pay the State Police about $10,000 during the past two summers to dedicate a trooper to the island a few hours a night on its busy weekends.
Like neighboring Ocean City and Sea Isle City, Strathmere's population swells in the summer. Those neighboring towns have their own police departments and hire seasonal officers to police the overflow crowds.
The fire company and civic group hoped a dedicated police presence would deter people from obnoxious and dangerous behavior such as setting lifeguard stands on fire, parking in front of people's driveways and hosting rowdy parties on the beach.
Fire company President Greg Bennett said it was galling to pay police for protection Strathmere deserved anyway. But he said the fire company and civic group agreed the police deterrence was worth paying the Woodbine barracks $80 per hour.
"That's ridiculous," Woodbine Mayor William Pikolycky said. "You could get a rent-a-cop for cheaper than that."
Pikolycky said the State Police have always provided additional troopers for special events such as festivals at no cost to the borough when it asks. Woodbine once had its own borough police department.
"They've always responded to every request when we had a parade or vendors or just wanted an increased police presence," he said. "We never made any demands, but they realigned shifts to accommodate our requests."
Likewise, Dennis Township Committeewoman Ruth Blessing said her township never paid for any special details to her knowledge.
State Police spokesman Capt. Al Della Fave said nobody in Upper Township has complained to the barracks or State Police headquarters about inadequate policing in Strathmere. The payment arrangement with Strathmere was similar to agreements police strike with utility companies for special details at road projects to slow traffic.
"They were asking for additional coverage. They were getting the regular coverage," he said. "They approached us. We didn't approach them. They had never had complaints about the service provided.
"They asked for it. In the spirit of cooperation, we were willing to help. We made it happen."
Meanwhile, Strathmere's lawyer Mary D'Arcy Bittner is making the case to the Planning Board that island residents would be better served if they could rely on Sea Isle City police.
She subpoenaed the testimony of the Woodbine barracks station commander. But the state Attorney General's office stepped in to prevent him from testifying publicly at the Planning Board hearings. Instead, the agency plans to submit a confidential report outlining its response times and staffing.
The Press of Atlantic City has requested this written testimony.
Sea Isle City police had no such qualms about testifying. Lt. Thomas D'Intino answered more than an hour of questions in public about the city's staffing and response times at the Feb. 2 hearing.
Police staffing is a major expense in municipal budgets. Upper Township has no local purpose tax, thanks in part to its comparatively small payroll.
"Listen, there's no question there's been a concern about police protection and how best to remedy it - not just in Strathmere but everywhere in Upper. We're very comfortable with what the State Police provide," Mayor Richard Palombo said.
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