City manager makes room for additional police training

DOVER — Dover City Manager Donna Mitchell said she knew that she had to do her part to add new tools and additional training for Dover Police Department officers, especially amid the outcry for police reform following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis on May 25.

That’s why she decided to make a last-minute change to the city of Dover’s FY21 budget, adding $83,300 to it so that Dover police officers can conduct new training initiatives, before the ordinance’s final reading took place at the Dover City Council meeting on Monday night.

The budget was passed by a 7-2 vote, with Councilmen Tim Slavin and Roy Sudler Jr. voting against it.

Mrs. Mitchell said that she had met with Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson and agreed that a response was needed in order to show that the city was serious in doing its due diligence in response to police issues that have been taking place around the country.

“When Chief Johnson explained his need to me, I didn’t feel that stating we would find the money in the upcoming budget would send the right message and it needed to be taken care of now,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “I reduced the general fund budget balance to increase the training and consulting expenses Chief Johnson requested in his recent revision.

“The police training budget is now $88,300, as compared to the proposed $55,000 (about a 60 percent increase), and an additional amount has been added for consulting in the amount of $50,000 to assist with expert training to be done on-site. The increase in total budget is $83,300.”

To cover the budget increase Mrs. Mitchell said the city will decrease the general fund budget balance, or the cash used to pay bills while waiting for utility or other payments to come in.

She added that all city departments were originally asked to reduce their budgets to account for losses due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic this year.

The original budget request for the police department for training was $145,100, which was $90,100 over FY20’s request.

“The budget team reduced the budget back down to the prior year of $55,000 as we were holding expenses to their FY20 levels to fend off a property tax increase due to the economic implications of COVID-19 on many of our property owners,” said Mrs. Mitchell. “Since this time, we have had the matter with George Floyd impacting police budgets across the country. Chief Johnson worked to reduce his original request but included these areas that will address the needs of our community.

“In the past, the city has always taken the approach if an unplanned expense comes up after the budget has been presented that we would try to find savings wherever we could to address that need. Usually with employee turnover or some project savings we have been able to follow this process.”

Chief Johnson said the new training measures will involve every sworn-in member of the police department.

“Under stress and critical moments police officers’ behaviors revert back to their training,” Chief Johnson said. “Simultaneously, you’re considering a myriad of factors — what you’re trying to do, what the overall situation is, the backdrop, the environment, time and distance, and one of the things that isn’t part of muscle memory yet is — looking at the (George Floyd) video that prompted all this reflection in all of us I believe, is the mere fact that the (Minneapolis) officers lost some situational awareness and also did some other things that regrettably we all hated to see happen.

“They also probably didn’t have knowledge to the degree that’s now necessary about body positioning, about pressure, about responses that physiologically occur when two human beings are involved in a physical struggle. I thought that the biggest representation of the biggest professional failure that occurred in Minneapolis was the total lack of awareness of that person’s physical demise underneath the use of force being applied by those officers, so our goal is to find training.”

City Councilmen David Anderson and Sudler said they were encouraged that these new training measures are being taken, but also pushed for Dover police to add body cameras to their arsenal to add some transparency and accountability to interactions between police and citizens.

“This is very, very important for the community,” Councilman Anderson said, of the enhanced training. “My understanding is that the (city’s economic) numbers are going to be static, the same as last year. If that turns out to be the case, would we be able to address the budget a little bit to make sure that we have money for a local portion for body cameras, which should be hopefully funded by a grant?”

Councilman Sudler expressed concern that he had not seen anything regarding the training budget increase go through city council and added that he also supported the addition of police body cameras.

“I’m just a little baffled at how we can add $83,300 out of our budget to go to the police department, but when it comes to other things, we have a hard time finding money,” Councilman Sudler said. “We have been asking for body cameras for over four years. I think that with what’s going on now globally I think that the body cam would be a great step forward.

“I think putting money toward that initiative would be a great step forward to show that we are moving forward and that we are putting things in place separate from just training and coping, which is important, too. But I think now is the time to step our efforts up with the body cams. I think that we’ve kicked the can down the road long enough. It’s time to pick it up and make it happen.”

The police chief promised that his department would be fiduciary responsible and will return any money not used for the training to the city’s coffers.

As for body cameras, Mayor Robin Christiansen said that he believes funding for those will soon come from other sources.

“I definitely concur with the proposal for body cams,” the mayor said. “I think that after an incident that we had (in Dover) I’ve always been supportive of (body camera) and I’d like to inform members of council that I believe that through the attorney general’s office and the governor’s office that we’re going to accomplish a statewide purchase of those body cams. That seems to be one of their initiatives.”

Mrs. Mitchell said that as far as body cameras go, she would prefer to make that a separate discussion and bring it back later not as part of the budget ordinance but to find out how the city can make that work and later bring it back to council.

Search for a new city manager picks up

With Mrs. Mitchell prepared to leave her post as Dover’s city manager this fall, the search is just beginning for her replacement.

In her search to help the city fill the position, Kim Hawkins — director of human resources — sent the following statement out to recruiting firms to help expedite the process.

“Dover is beginning its search for our next City Manager as the current City Manager is retiring on October 30, 2020. City Council as directed me to obtain price quotes from several executive recruiting firms to assist in this process. We are seeking an executive firm to provide the following services: Post the position and obtain a diverse pool of qualified applicants; Pre-screen the applicants and provide, hopefully, eight applicants to the city for review.”

Five consulting firms have expressed interest in helping Dover find its next city manager, including: Colin Baenziger and Associates; GovHRusa; HCSmith; Mercer and Novak.