Chief Morris calls it a career in Seaford
By Lynn R. Parks
After 38 years with the Seaford Police Department, 12 of them as chief, Gary Morris is retiring. His last day on the job will be Oct. 30.
For nearly 40 years, being a policeman has been my identity, said Morris, 61. I cant sit down in a restaurant without somebody coming up to tell me something or talk about a situation. I will have to take some time to figure out what my new identity will be.
As much as Morris will miss his job with the city, the city will miss him.
It will be difficult to find the next chief who cares about the community and participates in community events as does Chief Morris, city manager Dolores Slatcher said. The city will definitely miss him but wishes him a wonderful retirement, which he has earned.
Morris is in charge of 37 employees at the department, including 26 officers and nine dispatchers for the citys 911 call center. The emergency dispatch center that he oversees operates around the clock. In this job, you are on call 24/7, Morris said. You sleep with your phone by your side.
Morris has been instrumental in integrating the police department into the overall operations of the city, Slatcher said.
He oversaw the upgrade of the citys 911 call center and the addition of the administrative wing on the police station. He was also part of the team that directed the installation of a new generator at the station, to provide power in case of an electrical outage.
It was under his leadership that the department instituted a GPS system to monitor the movements of its patrol cars, Slatcher added. This has proven especially useful when a citizen indicates a vehicle has not patrolled an area or was someplace it was not supposed to be, she said. This helps our department maintain its high standard of service.
Mayor David Genshaw, who was elected to a position on the city council in 2012 and became mayor in 2014, said that he appreciates the guidance that Morris has given him in understanding how the police department works.
He has been more than willing to help me and has encouraged me to be involved in the department, Genshaw said. I appreciate that, because I believe that an effective police department is critical.
Like Slatcher, Genshaw praised Morris work with the city. He is a trusted advisor and a key member of our personnel, he said. He has been a blessing for Seaford.
Hired at 23
Morris, whose father, Glen, was a minister with the Church of God, grew up in the Baltimore and Rockville, Md., area. His dad was transferred to Marylands Eastern Shore in 1971 and Morris graduated from Colonel Richardson High School near Federalsburg in 1972. He attended Lee College (now University) in Cleveland, Tenn., where he studied history.
Before graduating, Morris returned home to the Delmarva Peninsula. A brother-in-law who was in law enforcement told him that the Seaford Police Department was looking for a patrolman. Morris applied and was hired. That was in 1977. Morris was 23 years old.
He worked as a patrolman for 13 years, then was transferred to the criminal investigation unit, where he served another 13 years.
I always liked the work itself, and I grew to love the job, he said. Ive always had the sense that we are helping people. The work that we do does make a difference in society.
Morris admits that theres a down side to police work. We deal with people at their worst moments, he said. We see a lot of things that most people never see, gunshot wounds, drug overdose deaths. During those times, you have to work to keep your head up.
But the good moments make up for the bad. When you help somebody, when youve solved a crime and you see the look of relief on the victims face, that keeps you coming back to the work.
Recently, the Seaford Police Department has faced controversy. On Sept. 18, 2011, officers falsely arrested Reginald Johnson of Dagsboro, an arrest that resulted in the city paying $270,000 to settle a lawsuit.
The police video from the arrest shows Johnson being shot with a stun gun within seconds of being asked to step out of his car and then being dragged from the automobile. Lying on the ground, surrounded by officers, Johnson repeatedly cries out, I havent done anything. Minutes later, after Johnson has been handcuffed and put into a patrol car, two officers can be heard laughing and one joking about planting drugs in Johnsons car.
After being taken to the Seaford police station, Johnson was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct; both charges were subsequently dropped by prosecutors. He filed his federal lawsuit in December 2012. It was settled in April 2014.
In July of last year, 19-year-old Justin Johnson, who was wanted by Seaford police on burglary charges, was taken into custody on Cannon Street in downtown. After being handcuffed, he broke away from police and jumped into the Nanticoke River. He was pulled from the water about 30 minutes later and died the next day.
Morris said that instead of those two arrests, citizens should focus on the many arrests that Seaford police officers make that go smoothly.
We make thousands of arrests without incident, he said. People need to focus on the positive things that happen, the many good things that we do throughout the course of the year. It seems to me that it is a national trend, to look for negatives.
Slatcher praises Morris actions in those two incidents, as well as in other difficulties the department has faced.
The chief has answered all complaints, whether [they are] favorable or not to the department or what someone wanted to hear, she said. His integrity and forthrightness [in taking] disciplinary action when required and standing by his officers when they have acted in accordance with policy and procedures is an important role for him.
Praise, and some advice
Morris is proud of his department. The Seaford Police Department is recognized as one of the top-tier professional police organizations in our state, he said. I think that that will continue and that the next chief will be as proud as I am of the work that we have done.
He also had words of praise for the city of which the department is a part. Seaford is a wonderful city, a great city, he said. It always works together. The city council, the mayor, the city manager and the employees work with this department as a team and Im sure that the new chief will strive to keep that in place.
His greatest frustration, he said, are repeat criminals. We continually arrest the same people over and over. If we could solve that, we would go a long way toward dropping our crime rate.
Reducing crime in the city will require the cooperation of the citizens, he added. We have to get the buy-in of the community. You cant arrest your way out of a problem.
As an example, he presents what he describes as a heroin epidemic in Seaford. We make heroin arrests almost daily. But thats not going to solve the heroin problem. As a society, we need to teach young people not to use dangerous drugs.
To help encourage the community to work with the police department, Morris has sent his officers out to interact with the public, at the annual Night Out and at school and church events. During the citys annual Riverfest, officers walk around the festival grounds.
We put ourselves out there, Morris said. Establishing a rapport with the community is the best way to get a buy-in.
In his retirement, Morris hopes to spend more time with his family. He and his wife, Renee, have two adult daughters, Amy Morris and Lindsay Taylor, both of whom live in Delmar, and five grandchildren. He also hopes to get outside more. I am an outdoors person and I am looking forward to time out of an office, said Morris.
He acknowledges that he will miss his staff. I care about the people who work here, he said.
As for the person who will replace him, he has a few words of advice. Keep an open mind, he said. Dont be quick to make a decision. Evaluate a situation from all angles and get input from others to find the solution that is best for all concerned.
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