DELMAR — Still in shock and angered by the line-of-duty death of Cpl. Keith Heacook in April, Delmar residents are calling for better salaries and other changes within the town’s police department.
At the town’s first in-person meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than a year ago, residents rallied outside Town Hall and called on elected officials from both the Maryland and Delaware sides of Delmar to “back the blue” by including more funding for salaries and improved conditions and staffing.
“It was pretty passionate,” said Delmar business leader Doug Marshall, one of the rally organizers. “The town is broken, and people are hoping for a change.”
Residents are now eyeing the town election in November as a way to get new leadership on the Maryland side of Delmar, he said. The Delaware election is next year.
Cpl. Heacook was attacked while responding alone to a call on the Delaware side of town in the early morning hours of April 25, police said. He died three days later.
His alleged attacker, Randon D. Wilkerson, 30, of Delmar, is now facing a list of felony charges, including first-degree murder.
Mayor Karen Wells from the Maryland side of town said she and other officials recognize the need for further improvements to the police department.
“In light of the tragedy and public outcry, we need to devise a plan going forward,” she said.
Police Chief Ivan Barkley submitted a new plan last week, which still needs to be reviewed, Mayor Wells said.
For the mayor, having two officers on shift at all times is a priority. “I understand the importance,” she said.
Even before Cpl. Heacook’s death, the town looked at police salaries at neighboring agencies and found them to be competitive.
“Delmar is in the ballpark, and we were comfortable with that,” Mayor Wells said.
In Salisbury, Maryland, Delmar’s larger neighbor to the south, the starting salary for police officers is $44,192 a year, according to a city spokesman.
Police cadets in Delmar earn an annual salary of $41,828 while they are attending the academy. Once they graduate, the salary increases to $43,920. The town pays for tuition to the academy, uniforms and weapons. Officers also are given take-home cars, she said.
The town currently has one cadet in the academy and three openings for new officers, Mayor Wells said. Including the chief’s position, the department can employ 14 officers.
Last year, under the direction of Chief Barkley, the town implemented a step-and-scale plan for the police department, which provides annual salary increases. That plan included raises last year, as well as in the fiscal 2022 budget, which was approved at the May 24 joint meeting of the Town Commission from Maryland and the Town Council from Delaware.
Funding for the police department accounts for about 50% of the town budget, with Maryland paying $1.1 million and Delaware $747,000.
Maryland is responsible for 60%, or $2.65 million, of Delmar’s newly approved budget for fiscal 2022. Delaware’s 40% amounts to $1.55 million.
Officials on the Maryland side of Delmar are currently engaged in collective bargaining with the police union, and the matter, so far, is unresolved, Mayor Wells said. If an agreement is reached, the town can amend the budget at a later date.
“It’s been a struggle, but we’re committed to working it out,” she said.