The SACC Holds Law Enforcement Leaders of Delmarva Forum

Large group of people standing together

On Wednesday, June 12, the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce presented the inaugural Law Enforcement Leaders of Delmarva Forum, featuring the top leaders of nine Eastern Shore law enforcement agencies. 

Nearly one hundred government, business, and organizational leaders gathered at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore campus for the event, presented by Absolute Security Group, Inc. and Colonial Life. 

The participants included Salisbury Maryland Chief of Police – David Meienschein; Maryland State Police Salisbury Barracks Commander – John Revel; Wicomico County Maryland Sheriff – Mike Lewis; Worcester County Maryland Sheriff – Matt Crisafulli; Somerset County Maryland Sheriff – Ronald Howard; City of Cambridge Maryland Police Chief – Justin Todd; Fruitland, Maryland Police Chief –  Krah Plunkert; Exmore, Virginia Police Chief – Angelo DiMartino; and Dover Police Department – Chief Thomas A. Johnson, Jr.

Wicomico County State Attorney Jamie Dykes moderated the panel.

The event began with a moment of silence in honor of Cpl. Glenn R. Hilliard, on the second anniversary of his death in the line of duty. Glenn lost his life while attempting to serve an arrest warrant in Pittsville, MD.

The panelists addressed various issues, including informing and engaging the public, trends in juvenile crime, cannabis-impaired driving, officer morale, wellness, and recruitment/retention.

All panelists agreed that juvenile crime is trending upwards and, in many cases, is a crime of opportunity. 

Town of Exmore (Virginia) Chief Angelo DiMartino advised the audience, “Car thefts are on the rise and are a textbook crime of opportunity. Please don’t leave your keys in an unlocked car, even if you just run into the convenience store.” 

Dover Police Chief Johnson shared his concern with the escalation of violence in juvenile crime. “We have thirteen- to fourteen-year-olds repeat offenders, and we consistently see a lack of structure in their lives. There is a dire need for extra support and intervention in these kids’ lives. Social media and lack of social skills are also driving forces – juveniles are more concerned with pleasing their peers than pleasing others.”

Fruitland Police Chief Krah Plunkert stated that transparency is essential when addressing the public. “Issuing quick, regular, and accurate information is necessary, as are educational campaigns offering information on what is going on internally and informing the public on policies and procedures. Partnering and collaborating online with local organizations allows us to correct misinformation quickly and effectively.”

“Alternatively, there are times when we can’t release information, which could be sensitive to an ongoing investigation.”

The topic of cannabis-impaired driving prompted Salisbury State Police Barracks Commander John Revel to share, “Our Troopers handle cannabis-impaired drivers the same as we do alcohol-impaired drivers. If we smell either substance, we will conduct the roadside impairment tests, and once back at the barrack, we may call in a drug recognition expert or draw blood to determine the substance.

Fruitland Chief Plunkert added,” Our department has seen a rise in cannabis-impaired driving and is seeing alcohol and marijuana in combination together. Unfortunately, there is no technology out there to conclude marijuana impairment except a blood test accurately.” 

Moderator Jamie Dykes asked all leaders to weigh in on morale, wellness, and how they play a role in recruiting and retention.

Cambridge Chief of Police Justin Todd touched on recruitment, sharing, “Our department had more than forty sworn officers in 2014; in 2022, the number of officers had dipped to twenty-nine. It’s a tough hiring environment nowadays.”  

Salisbury State Police Barracks Commander Revel spoke on the State Police’s recruitment efforts: “We are doing okay as an agency; we have officers from other departments come to the Maryland State Police. We create a barrack that is a home away from home atmosphere for our troopers.”  

Chief Plunkert shared with the audience the harsh reality of police work and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is not uncommon for all first responders. “First responders struggle emotionally; they will see 150 horrific incidents in their career, and the average citizen may see one or two throughout a lifetime. That and other factors add to the challenges in recruiting and retaining good men and women to serve.”

Wicomico County, Maryland Sheriff Mike Lewis stated,” We have had to adapt and evolve to attract recruits, enhancing pay and benefits, but it challenging to recruit new officers when there is so much rhetoric disparaging this profession.”

Dover Delaware Chief Thomas Johnson said, “We are always trying to play catch-up with departures and arrivals to maintain a full force. The cumulative stress of police work is real, and it takes its toll on retention and recruiting.” 

Somerset County, Maryland, Sheriff Ronald Howard shared, “I do not cherry-pick officers from other agencies, but the pool of qualified recruits is getting smaller each year.” 

Exmore Chief DiMartino added, “Officers must experience many disturbing sights, and as Chief, I have to check in with those officers on their well-being continually.”  

The City of Salisbury Chief David Meienschein agreed with Commander Revel, “You have to create a family atmosphere where the Chief is approachable. Police review boards are stressors and impact retention and recruiting.” 

The entire panel of leaders all nodded to the statement that the wellness of their officers is “our” responsibility. 

Worcester County, Maryland Sheriff Matt Crisafulli, finished his remarks by saying, “It has become a national issue when it comes to police officer recruitment and the retention of existing officers. We have to be innovative, including higher pay and benefits.”

The SACC wishes to thank our esteemed law enforcement leaders and first responders for their steadfast dedication to serving and protecting our community. Thank you also to Wicomico County States Attorney Jamie Dykes, presenting sponsors Absolute Security Group, Inc. and Colonial Life; sponsors Minuteman Press, Pohanka of Salisbury, Salisbury University, and Wicomico County Public Schools, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.