Delaware lawmakers propose moving crime-fighting funds statewide

DOVER — With $1.5 million for Wilmington crime-fighting initiatives still up in the air, House Republicans are pushing for the money to be spread throughout the state instead.

In December the Joint Finance Committee voted to set aside $1.5 million for Wilmington and $600,000 for Dover for a variety of public safety initiatives proposed by the Department of Justice.

The two cities have seen record or near-record levels of gun violence, partially resulting from the drug trade. However, Wilmington leaders balked at the strings attached to the funds.

Frustrated lawmakers, who see the city administration as refusing to listen to outside advice, required the city to provide information on its police force as a condition of taking the money. Mayor Dennis P. Williams and other top city officials have not accepted the offer, leaving $1.5 million on the table.

On Tuesday the House Republican caucus revealed its members want to distribute those funds statewide in the face of Wilmington’s refusal.

Legislation to be introduced soon by Minority Leader Rep. Daniel Short, R-Seaford, would move the money to the State Aid to Local Law Enforcement and Emergency Illegal Drug Enforcement programs.

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Rep. Daniel Short

Local police agencies would be able to apply for funds, which could cover overtime, equipment purchases, expanded training and more.

Each department would be able to receive at least $10,000, as well as an additional $1,073 for each police officer in the agency.

Wilmington could collect up to $345,849 under the proposal.

“I thought it’d be a good idea to disperse that money to all police agencies in the state except for the city of Dover, which had already gotten an allocation to help them in their crime-fighting efforts,” Rep. Short said in a statement.

“So we’d like to use that same formula and rather than this money sit idle, get it out there and get it into the hands of the people who can use it and make a difference in Delaware every day.”

The draft bill, expected to be filed next week, would also authorize that some of the funds be used by police to purchase Naloxone. That’s a drug used to reverse the effects of heroin overdoses.

A spokesman for Attorney General Matt Denn, a Democrat who has pushed for police patrols in dangerous areas in Wilmington, said Mr. Denn “does not believe that thinly spreading these funds throughout the state” is the best use of the money.

“First, visible policing in areas of the state that are seeing high levels of violent crime remains a paramount concern, and the attorney general would like to see these limited funds concentrated for a single purpose in those discrete areas of the state,” Carl Kanefsky said. “Second, this proposal would actually reward Wilmington for declining to provide the information sought by the legislature.

“Rather than Wilmington receiving $500,000 in funds for foot patrol officers, which was the city’s portion of the $1.5 million endorsed by the JFC with the condition that it disclose how it is currently spending funds for patrol officers (the other $1 million going to the New Castle County Police and Delaware State Police for conducting overtime policing efforts in Wilmington), the new proposal would award Wilmington $350,000 with significantly more discretion with no requirement that it disclose any information about its current spending.”

A spokeswoman for the Wilmington mayor’s office said city officials feel the new proposal may be more acceptable.

“On several occasions, Mayor Williams and city officials expressed a willingness to accept the $1.5 million for overtime costs if that particular condition was removed. However, given that the state of Delaware has rarely, if ever, removed a municipality’s authority over its own police force, the city was unequivocally opposed to accepting funding where the state threatened to take control of Wilmington’s police department,” Alexandra Coppadge said.

“This alternative use for the funding could represent an effective way to improve the effectiveness of a police department without threatening a takeover. Wilmington Police Department officials would explore applying to the grant.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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