By Terry Harris
Six months ago, an advertised, open meeting drew a crowd of more than 50 people to hear Sheriff Ernest Giles speak on the proposal he had received from the town of Waverly formally requesting that he add their law enforcement responsibilities to his already hefty challenge of handling the rest of Sussex County including the town of Wakefield.
Following the town’s acceptance of his condition that Waverly Police officers and Dispatchers would be offered the opportunity to work with him for the Sheriff’s Department at a three percent increase in pay and the Town Council’s unanimous vote to make the change, Sheriff Giles accepted the challenge.
Last week, Waverly Mayor Angela McPhaul and Town Council President Franklin Cox sat down to discuss why the change ultimately was made and how the first six months after the change have affected the town and its citizens.
“Saving money certainly was important,” said McPhaul, “but the safety and security of the town was the biggest issue. We had lost confidence in the Waverly Police Department leadership, and initially brought in the Sheriff to cover the town following the departure of the last of a revolving door of police chiefs over the last few years gave us the opportunity to seek his help in evaluating what our next steps should be.”
“Waverly was the only town in the county that had its own Police Department,” McPhaul continued, “and it very quickly became clear that having the Sheriff’s Department permanently assume responsibility of the town with a staff of five reliable, trained deputies assigned to our town, was the only thing that made sense. For example, we no longer have to worry about the constant headaches with personnel that had been going on for several years. We even had several state police investigations due to personnel issues going on in the Police Department that we don’t have to worry about with Sheriff Giles and his people.”
When asked about some initial concerns about whether the town would be as safe with the Sheriff’s Department in charge, as opposed to the town’s own Police Department, she responded, “Besides his sterling reputation, when you add the fact that Sheriff Giles actually lives within town limits, it’s like I told everyone at the time, you just know that Waverly is going to get the best protection possible. And we are. Within a matter of days, the amount of pressure that his taking over, reorganizing, and running things for us relieved? Well, the way I look at it is that now we have this amazing sheriff that takes care of things, the citizens are safe - it’s a win-win, and a tremendous load off the town administration.”
When pressed for specific details on the effect that the change has made in the town, Mayor McPhaul explained, “Well, the police presence by the Sheriff and his department has been exponentially better, as he requires his deputies to check in and report back to him. That did not happen when we had the Police Department here.”
“Sheriff Giles turns in reports and speaks at council meetings with information that is comprehensive, and you can trust in the numbers he gives,” she continued. “He accounts for every single dollar that he spends so we are saving several hundred thousand dollars a year.”
Expanding on the financial aspect of the change, McPhaul revealed that while the annual Waverly Police Budget had been $800,000, “We are spending just over $500,000 now for much better service, and even some of that amount is offset by fines the department turns in for tickets written within the town.”
She added that the sheriff’s Litter Program – whereby he keeps bags and trash picking equipment on hand so that someone who owes Community Service hours can come in and pick up trash on the side of the road, has made “a tremendous difference in the overall feel of the town.”
“And the Sheriff and his department participate in all Waverly community service activities, whether it’s an official function or a Trunk or Treat,” she added, “which was not the case with the police department. For example, Sheriff Giles took on a large role with the first annual Chamber Fall Festival Committee, taking care of things like providing safety on the street and the closing of the road. It was great to see more than 20 Sheriff’s Department people participating in a local event.”
Speaking from his position as Waverly Town Council President, Franklin Cox said, “When we switched our policing over to Sheriff Giles and his department, that was a huge, huge plus for the town of Waverly, and it’s just been this huge weight lifted off my shoulders to know that we have someone like Sheriff Giles, with his impeccable reputation, to be in charge of the safety and well-being of the town.”
“In my opinion, Waverly hit a home run,” he continued. “I have not met one person who cares more about this county and the town of Waverly than Sheriff Giles, and that’s what drives him. He’s a great guy, he’s been doing it a long time, and he does it right. The people of Sussex County and the citizens of Waverly are incredibly fortunate to have Sheriff Giles and his Department.”
“We now have a professionally run department, and we know that the officers are trained and certified,” Cox added. “I had long thought that this change would be a great benefit to the town, and we’re just fortunate that he agreed to it, because it adds a tremendous amount to his already full plate. But it’s made a world of difference – for the good – in Waverly.”