Chief Phillip Voorhees

Chief Phillip Voorhees of the Surf City Police Department was our guest speaker this week. Chief Voorhees, a New Jersey native, brings a wealth of experience to his position. He began his career with the US Marines and was stationed at Camp Lejeune for a portion of his enlistment. Appreciating the beach life on Topsail Island he vowed to return to the area someday. His experience as a Marine led him to realized he wanted to help people and law enforcement was one way to accomplish that goal. Before coming to Topsail Island, Chief Voorhees served as a police officer on the West Side of Chicago, an area known for violent crimes where he gained experience dealing with every type of crime.

In 2007, Chief Voorhees realized his dream to return to Topsail Island and joined the police force in Surf City. During this time and back in Chicago he knew the way forward in his career path was to become experienced and certified in all aspects of law enforcement. His professional development and excellent policing skills led the Surf City Council to appoint Phillip as Chief of Police in January 2022, replacing long-serving and well-thought of Chief Ron Shanahan, who had previously announced his retirement.

Chief Voorhees noted that the Police Department received 5,000+ calls for service in the last 12 months from citizens in a town of 3,400 residents. To handle this large call volume Chief Voorhees has a force of 25 sworn officers, plus additional office staff. One issue many small-town police departments face is officer retention due to the shortage of qualified candidates and the willingness of large communities to provide larger salaries and greater benefits. To combat this trend Chief Voorhees encourages his officers to continue to train and become certified in various areas of policing. In return, officers are rewarded with 5% pay increases as their certification experiences increase.

One unique Surf City training facility is a ‘stage’ where officers face a multimedia screen and are challenged with visual and audio scenarios where use of force might or might not (fire or no fire) be necessary. These sessions help officers ‘learn’ not to react but to act accordingly to the situation as it develops. Chief Voorhees, as mentioned above, is a strong believer in professional development encouraging officers to go the extra mile.

Chief Voorhees is a believer in strategic planning for the force in the future. What will Surf City look like in 5, 10 or 15 years from now? How do you decide that more officers are needed as each officer position is quite expensive when you consider $50K vehicle costs, $3K vehicle computer costs, officer gear costs plus salary and fringe benefits are close to $100K. Two indicators of the need for new officers is the number of calls for assistance and the number of new housing permits issued in town.

Chief Voorhees talked about crime and the fact that Surf City is no different than any other community with crimes like Internet fraud, and child pornography (one case that resulted in an arrest), in addition to the usual types of physical crime. He noted that policing today has improved tremendously with the aid of technology and the wealth of webcams everywhere. One incident with a convenience store robbery was solved even though the description of the getaway vehicle included only the type, color, and one unique bumper sticker but not the license plate, which allowed the Surf City police to find and arrest a suspect.

Chief Voorhees went on to describe community-wide activities in his department under the topic of “Community Policing Program”

  • ‘The Police Academy for Citizens’ to learn about the scope and nature of policing
  • ‘Lunch with the Law’ held each month at Surf City Elementary and Middle Schools to build bridges
  • ‘Roadside Roll Call’ by neighborhood followed by an open forum with residents in a non-emergency setting
  • ‘Bike Patrol’
    • A new program aimed at undergrads in area community colleges majoring in criminal justice
      • To promote community interaction with the police and talk about town ordinances
      • To aid in victim location for EMS calls
      • To ride along in patrol units to get a breath of policing activities

No doubt Chief Voorhees has accomplished a lot in his short time as Chief of Police, and his leadership in a positive professional attitude will be a great influence in his department as he strives to build professionalism among his officers and community involvement in the safety and security of residents and visitors to Surf City.

During the Q&A session following Chief Voorhees talk, Mayor Steve Smith of Topsail Beach raised a couple of issues his community faces at the south end of Topsail Island.

  • The need for a magistrate in Hampstead to avoid an 8-hour trip with paperwork to transport prisoners to Burgaw for processing.
  • The need for affordable housing in the area for young officers and their families given the high cost of houses and rentals on the island.
  • The need for the State of North Carolina, Department of Public Safety to offer officer certification classes more widely across the state rather than one location once a year.