History of the Delaware State Police - 1985-1989
In 1985, a Bell Long Ranger II helicopter was acquired. This aircraft was to be used primarily for medevac missions, as well as police support and executive transportation.
The Trooper Medic Program was instituted in 1985. Troopers received extensive medical training, becoming licensed paramedics. The trooper-medics then rode as attendees on medevac helicopters to administer treatment to patients while en route to the hospital. Initially, the medics served primarily Kent and Sussex Counties. The program was eventually expanded to serve all three counties statewide.
By 1985, all three counties had a Fatal Accident Investigation and Reconstruction unit. The FAIR team responsibilities include investigating fatal motor vehicle accidents, serious personal injury accidents, and providing technical support to patrol officers. The unit members receive specialized training in the collection, documentation, and analysis of evidence from accident scenes. Mathematical formulas and the laws of physics are applied to the evidence to determine the cause of the collision.
The year also saw the formation of the Financial and Organized Crime Asset Seizure Team, known as FORCAST. The mission of the unit is to provide special expertise in complex financial investigations. The drug unit also established a south unit in response to the growing illegal drug problem in southern Delaware during the year. In relation to this effort, a 24-hour toll free hotline was established for citizen use in reporting drug activity.
Due to the proliferation of automatic and semi-automatic weapons on the street, in April of 1988, the division began phasing in a new 9mm Smith & Wesson semi-automatic handgun to replace the Smith & Wesson .357 revolvers used by troopers in the field. The new semi-automatic weapons offered eight major advantages over the revolvers:
- Speed of reloading - manually loading a revolver, even with a speed loader takes anywhere from four to ten seconds depending on the skill of the shooter. A magazine can be loaded in to a semi-automatic in one second.
- Ammunition Capacity - the new weapon’s magazine carries twelve rounds, doubling the capacity of the old revolvers.
- Ease of Maintenance - the semi-automatic’s parts do not require any filing or machining. Worn parts are simply replaced.
- Recoil - the 9mm develops far less recoil than the .357 round.
- Reliability - the semi-automatic weapons have fewer problems which are easier to correct.
- Safety - the new guns incorporate a safety feature in which the weapon cannot be fired when the magazine is removed.
- Ballistic Performance - there is less chance of a bullet penetrating a suspect and striking innocent bystanders.
The entire division underwent training in the use of the new firearm. This changeover from the .357 revolver marked the first time the Delaware State Police utilized a semi-automatic weapon.
In 1988, new initiatives were undertaken in the area of fingerprint technology. The Delaware State Police obtained the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System, AFIS, at a cost of $2.3 million dollars. The system allows for the comparison of fingerprints by computer, a huge time savings over manual comparison. Prints located at a crime scene with an unknown suspect could be identified quickly by comparison using the AFIS system, thus leading to suspect identification and arrest. In April of 1996, an upgrade to the system was obtained at a cost of $1.7 million dollars. This is the most advanced design available, making the AFIS state of the art.
On January 1, 1989, the enhanced 911 system was implemented. This system automatically provides the location of emergency calls in the event telephone contact is interrupted, thus allowing emergency units to still respond. The Delaware State Police purchased the hardware necessary to implement the Statewide Intelligence Narcotics Network, SINN, in 1989. This system will link the intelligence information of all agencies in the state to be used in criminal investigations.
In March of 1989, the Delaware State Police created a statewide homicide unit. Prior to this initiative, homicides were investigated by the criminal unit at the troop with jurisdiction over the area. With the creation of the unit, all homicides within state police jurisdiction will be investigated by the unit. Also investigated will be all departmental shootings involving divisional personnel.
On June 17, 1987, Trooper Randall P. Armistead, 25, was involved in a serious vehicle crash on Interstate 95 that took the lives of three people, and left him permanently injured. Trooper Armistead later retired on a disability pension as a result of his injuries. Trooper Armistead was traveling north on Interstate 95 assisting Delaware County Pennsylvania police officers in a pursuit of three suspects involved in a series of purse snatchings. The suspect vehicle suddenly turned down an exit ramp and entered the interstate traveling in the wrong direction. As Trooper Armistead observed the vehicle traveling in the wrong direction, he positioned his patrol vehicle to shield another car traveling north. The occupant was quoted as saying "He saved our lives, … if he was not where he was, we could have been killed. He pulled up and went right between us." (Trooper Armistead speaking at Woodbury High School, NJ).
Trooper Armistead spent many days on life-support, and many months recuperating from a closed head injury, that left him partially paralyzed on his right side. He eventually recovered enough to be released from the hospital, and has undergone years of rehabilitation since the accident.
Corporal David B. Pulling was a six year veteran of the division. On November 18, 1987, he was attending training to become a bomb technician for the division at the training school, which was taught by the FBI, at the Red Stone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Corporal Pulling was handling an explosive device as part of a training exercise, when it accidentally detonated, causing his death. Corporal Pulling was survived by his parents, a wife and two sons. Corporal Pulling's brother, Richard Pulling Jr., currently serves as a uniformed member of the division. After his death, an annual benefit softball tournament was held in his honor. Proceeds from the tournament were used to establish a fund for his children's education.
During 1988, the division received the distinction of receiving "accreditation" for having met the standards of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. This commission consists of members of police agencies throughout the United States and Canada. The accreditation process involves commission members conducting on-site inspections and reviews of all the operational and administrative policies and procedures which exist throughout the division. The Delaware State Police was the first agency to receive such distinction in the state. The cycle is repeated every five years, with the division receiving re-accreditation in 1993.
By the end of the decade, the division grew in size with the signing of House Bill 332, which increased the complement to 500 troopers. This was the first increase in strength since 1968. Community based programs continued to be introduced, with the division continually solidifying its position as a full service agency. In this environment, the division entered the 1990's preparing itself for the rapid technological and societal changes to come.