The Town of Fenwick Island has hired a new police chief, according to a notice posted on the Town’s website.
The council has hired Wilmington Police Department veteran Michael Morrissey of Dagsboro to replace outgoing Chief John Devlin, whose contract the council voted not to renew in May. Devlin’s current contract expires Aug. 31.
“Morrissey brings to Fenwick Island more than 33 years of policing experience at both the community and national levels,” the Town’s statement said. According to the statement, he has been a part-time resident of Fenwick Island for 20 years.
Morrissey, the town’s statement said, began his police career in 1989 with the City of Wilmington Police Department. (WPD). “During his early career he earned numerous commendations, including the Kiwanis Club Officer of the Year in 1991.
“During his tenure, he served in the Patrol, Internal Affairs and Community Policing Divisions. Morrissey also served as the department’s liaison with the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, writing grants and managing traffic safety programs, which included Click It or Ticket, Check Point Strike Force, and child safety seat and aggressive driving enforcement,” the statement said.
While working as a supervisor in the Community Policing Unit, Morrissey managed the federal Weed and Seed Program — which targeted violent crime areas, seeking to replace it with productive activities. Morrissey also obtained grant funding to modernize the Wilmington department’s bicycle unit. He also served on the Fugitive Safe Surrender Program led by the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. and Delaware Attorney Generals’ Offices.
Upon retirement in November 2009 from the Wilmington Police Department, Morrissey began his career with the Amtrak Police Department, which is a federal-level policing organization. During his tenure with Amtrak, he has served in supervisory and management roles in the Patrol and Criminal Investigations Divisions, serving in Wilmington, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Morrissey has extensive experience in interagency partnership, traffic safety and grant management.
Morrissey earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in justice administration from Wilmington University. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s School of Police Staff and Command Class #479, and has completed several supervisory training programs at the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville, the statement from the Town said.
Morrissey has been married to his wife, Kelly, a nurse, for 26 years. The couple has two children who are attending college, in southern California and Alabama.
“So that Morrissey’s transition to police chief will be seamless, after wrapping up his duties for Amtrak, Morrissey will begin serving Fenwick Island as a public safety liaison to the Town Council in advance of taking the position as Police Chief on Sept. 1,” the town’s statement said.
“The Town Council believes Mr. Morrissey’s extensive background and experience in Wilmington and a nationwide organization will be instrumental in addressing all aspects of our town’s policing priorities, including Route 1 safety concerns regarding speed enforcement and crosswalk safety. During his interview, Morrissey offered a 90-day plan for addressing those issues, and we are looking forward to seeing his plan put into action to benefit the Fenwick Island community,” the Town’s statement said.
Prior to the announcement, Mayor Natalie Magdeburger and the other council members had been mum on the chief search.
The announcement of the hiring of Morrissey came after several months of tension between current chief John Devlin and the council, which declined to renew Devlin’s contract with the Town in advance of the expiration of his current contract on Aug. 31.
Devlin filed legal action against town officials in which he claimed that Magdeburger had entered the police station without proper authorization while he was out of town at the end of April, and that the non-renewal had been in retaliation for his accusations against her. The announcement of the non-renewal of his contract came at the beginning of May.
Devlin had been a member of the FIPD for more than 20 years. He took over as chief in September 2020, following the departure of William Boyden, who had pleaded guilty following an indictment on charges of falsifying records involving weapons training.
The current chief’s attorney, Thomas Neuberger, said on Tuesday that “unless a new Town Council is elected in August to fix this, all homeowners can expect a large increase in their property taxes to pay for the seven-figure jury award that is coming after the chief sues the Town and Council.”
The town council election is set for Saturday, Aug. 5, in which Magdeburger and council members Janice Bortner and Jacqueline Napolitano, as well as a newcomer, Kurt Zanelotti are campaigning together against challengers Jim Simpson, Bernie Merritt, Kristina Clark and Gary Burch.
The hiring process
Magdeburger said three local police chiefs conducted the initial round of interviews and provided the Town, “based upon their own background and expertise, with their thoughts regarding the applicants who were interviewed.
“The interview process conducted by the chiefs included both a verbal and written component,” she said, adding that background checks were also completed on the applicants.
“We were very pleased to see the quality of the education, experience, expertise and overall background of the applicants who applied and were interviewed,” Magdeburger said. “We are also very thankful to the chiefs of the local jurisdictions who provided us with their time and guidance in the interview process.
“Given the interaction between Fenwick Island and these other agencies, it is important Fenwick’s chief of police be able to collaboratively work with and have the support of other chiefs in our area, as our Fenwick officers often work in tandem with these other jurisdictions when responding to calls of a serious nature,” she said.
“In addition, there are interagency training opportunities with these other agencies that Fenwick Island has been offered and will be able to take advantage of in the future,” she said.
Seven applicants were interviewed, Magdeburger said.
Asked whether Devlin’s legal actions had caused any delays or complications in filling the position, Magdeburger replied that “there were no complications in receiving applications and proceeding with the interview process.”