Bill would allow Delmar Police Department to unionize

By Craig Anderson
Posted 6/16/21

DOVER — In the wake of Delmar Police Department Cpl. Keith Heacook’s recent death following a confrontation with a suspect, there’s pending legislation that would allow the law …

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Bill would allow Delmar Police Department to unionize


DOVER — In the wake of Delmar Police Department Cpl. Keith Heacook’s recent death following a confrontation with a suspect, there’s pending legislation that would allow the law enforcement agency to unionize.

With a union, supporters said, the department could collectively bargain for measures designed to increase pay and create safer working conditions.

Senate Bill 181 was released by the Senate Labor Committee on Wednesday, and is now set for further discussion among state legislators.

As the Delmar Police Department has operated under a joint agreement between separate town councils in Delaware and Maryland since 1954, it hasn’t been considered a public employer under Delaware law. SB 181 would definitively establish that the DPD is a public employer and thus covered under the Delaware Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Employment Act.

SB 181 would allow Delmar Police Department members “to collectively bargain for better pay and safer working conditions,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, the legislation’s prime sponsor.

According to a news release issued by the Delaware State Senate Majority Caucus prior to the bill’s release, “Both Cpl. Heacook’s wife Susan and Maryland Delegate Carl Anderton, who served as mayor of Delmar, Maryland until 2015, have been critical of the chronic understaffing at the Delmar Police Department, which they claim contributed to the corporal being the only officer on duty the night he was killed.”

Paul Thornburg, the secretary/treasurer of International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Local 325, spoke in favor of the legislation during the public comment portion of the committee hearing. IBT is seeking to represent police in Delmar and has petitioned the Delaware Public Employment Relations Board to do so.

While Cpl. Heacook’s death “drove (the issue) to the front,” Mr. Thornburg said IBT has been working on the matter since 2017. The union has continued to negotiate with Maryland officials, he said.

“The chronic understaffing is (mostly) due to a lack of starting pay,” Mr. Thornburg said. “As everybody knows, most municipalities are fighting amongst each other for candidates (and) less and less in society now are moving forward to become officers and most of them are now heading towards where the money is ... and we’re just trying to have everyone understand where the low numbers need to be and how much we need to pay officers in order to keep the citizens safe.

“We see this as a safety issue, we see this as a fairness issue.”

During the committee meeting, Republican Sen. Bryant Richardson expressed reservations about the bill.

“After the death of Cpl. Heacook there’s a lot of sensitivities in the Delmar area about police officer safety and doing the right thing,” he said.

“I don’t know if this bill fixes that, I don’t know how the taxpayers of Delaware feel about this. I don’t think council members are in favor of this. I know that they for a number of years have been trying to some sort of agreement with the police department to do what’s right for the police officers who serve the community in the two states.

“I know also that with the death of Cpl. Heacook that there’s more of a sense of urgency to get something done. I don’t know if this is the proper course of action or not. I’m still weighing in on that. I’m still talking to members of the Delmar community about this ...”

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