Dover Police Department makes progress with new policies, standards

DOVER — In a mid-June press conference, new Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson announced a coming push for department reform.

Also at the forefront of goals was an emphasis on boosting its community policing model to connect with the public.

Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson said his two main priorities entering 2021 will be to deliver the best body-worn cameras proposal to elected officials and begin implementation of a social service resource to complement existing patrol operations. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

During the 50-minute gathering before media, the chief asked the public to hold him to meeting the challenge of examining and adapting operations.

Last week, the department announced progress made in the past six months, covering an array of modifications to policies and standards.

According to Chief Johnson, “The language of certain policies was clarified to leave no doubt about the intended meaning.
“For example, while it was always inferred, we made it clear that a warning should be issued, if time allows, prior to any substantial application of force. It was made more abundantly clear that all forms of neck restraint, whether manual, or aided by a control device, is completely outside of policy unless there is a threat to life that cannot be resolved any other way.

“When it comes to the topic of medical care, when an officer recognizes an illness or injury, a prisoner will be connected to medical services even if they do not request it or try to refuse it.

“Lastly, it should be noted that the duty to intervene that has been emphasized to all sworn members and officers will now be required to file a detailed written report of an excessive use of force event and the actions taken to bring the enforcement action back inside the parameters of policy.”

The department remains grounded in national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) national standards and “We are improving the language in all of the critical policies to remain in line with evolving best practices,” spokesman Sgt. Mark Hoffman said.

With the arrival of each new CALEA standard or policy, Dover expands its capacity to meet the latest best practices, according to the department.

Last week, Dover police was adding language that includes ‘vascular neck restriction’ to the policies that discuss ‘choke holds.’

“Some view these as separate issues but we agree with CALEA’s assessment that they are interconnected since they address pressure to the neck area,” Sgt. Hoffman said.

“One deals with the circulation of air and the other with the circulation of blood. Our policy will view them in the same cautious light.”

A former Dover police officer and chair of the city’s Safety Advisory and Transportation committee, Councilman Ralph Taylor said, “The reforms were demanded by our community so they are timely.

“They are a necessity. The members of the community don’t want to feel like the police department is against them and Chief Johnson has done an excellent job of uniting the police department and community.”

Mr. Taylor pointed to the strengthened Community Policing Unit, fueled by a federal grant, composed of “five seasoned officers” along with strides toward body-worn cameras and adding social workers to police operations.

City Councilman David Anderson pointed to what he said was “praise from our Attorney General and others for leading the way in positive, community oriented reforms for good reason.

“We not only follow many national best practices, but are forging ahead in what I call next practices. We are starting to show positive leadership that will be a model for the region.

“I was proud to support our men and women in blue and give them the investment they needed to be set up for successful service.

“That investment only pays off because of the commitment of each officer from the chief to the new patrolman to excellence in protecting and serving the community.

“I can’t be more pleased with their results so far and the plans ahead.”

The revived Dover Municipal Police Academy to develop new officers “was a COVID driven decision,” the chief said.

“We needed to replenish close to 15% of our strength and training capacity at other academies was unavailable.

“This opened the door for community policing education at the academy level and made accepting the (federal) COPS grant possible.”

The entire command staff took part in the process, along with Dover PD’s accreditation manager, police said.

“When specialty topics were engaged, such as use of force, we discussed improvements with specialists to capture what is currently considered best practices,” according to Chief Johnson.

Mayor Robin R. Christiansen, who oversees the police department, “has been in the loop the entire time.”

The nine-member Police Chief’s Advisory Committee announced in September has been an effective addition in bettering law enforcement’s relationship with the community, according to city law enforcement.

Chief Johnson emphasized “a special thanks” to the committee “for their dedication to our efforts. They have been engaged, informative, and have added a welcome new dimension to Dover policing.”

Said Councilman Roy Sudler Jr., “I, too, am immensely gratified of how the Dover police team came together to achieve notable progress on all of the declared goals by Chief Thomas Johnson, Jr. …”

Upcoming priorities

So what’s still on the to do list?

“The two main priorities I have going into 2021 is to deliver the best body-worn cameras proposal that I can to our elected officials and begin the implementation of a social service resource to complement our existing patrol operations,” Chief Johnson said.

“Both of these programs, in different ways, take us another step toward an improved justice system by increasing transparency and finding alternatives to arrest as a solution to certain minor offenses.

Chief Johnson emphasized “a special thanks” to the Police Chief’s Advisory Committee “for their dedication to our efforts. They have been engaged, informative, and have added a welcome new dimension to Dover policing.”

“Also keep an eye out for continued energy being delivered to our Municipal Police Academy and expanded Community Policing program.”

According to the chief, “There is more to come and much will be reflected in the Strategic Planning document that is currently in development.

“The plan will cover goals and objectives for the next five years and is being reviewed both internally and by an external team.
“The entire (package) will be submitted for Council review and comment before its adoption this summer.’

Mr. Anderson said, “The state needs to be a real partner in providing body camera support, though. They voiced support but failed to provide any real support. That needs to change quickly.

“If we want a statewide system that is compatible, then we need statewide support, otherwise we will have to go our own way and it may be more costly later.”

Mr. Sudler hopes that officers “will consider it imperative to participate in forthcoming Diversity and Inclusion Assessments amongst our workforce as the city reveals a new style and culture (Transformational Leadership Style) of navigating our workforce and governing our constituents.”

Also, Mr. Sudler said he’s pushing for a Mini-Mobile Mental Health and Law Enforcement Station “to be located in high-risk communities encountering an extraordinary criminal activity volume and enterprises.”

Additionally, among other aims, Mr. Sudler would like to see, “A gang-prevention program and activity sources between DPD and Parks and Recreational Division.”

To meet the demands of coping with a job that can bring combative, physical situations at times Mr. Sudler “would like to see an on-site psychologist be incorporated among our Dover Police Department to aid them with the psychological stressors of the job and work-family balance/conflict issues.”

Chief Johnson described the current state of public safety and crime issues in Dover as “improving.

“Working with several law enforcement partners, we have been able to arrest some major figures involved in the violence that has been plaguing the city.

“We have also begun stepped up enforcement operations in areas that have been the scenes of violent events. While not completely eliminated, we are beginning to document a decrease in violent assaults, shootings and after a record-setting pace of homicide to begin 2020, we have not recorded a murder since late September.”

Since arriving in February, Chief Johnson said he’s found that “Dover is a remarkable community. The label of ‘The City with a Small Town feel’ is a valid one.

“There are proud and passionate people, in both formal and informal roles, serving the city every day. This produces a tidal wave of leadership from all of Dover’s community organizations as well as the many residents who are concerned with our quality of life. It is palpable, even during a pandemic that has adversely impacted so many of Dover’s attractive traditions.

“Knowing what I know now, I’m even more honored that they selected me to serve as their chief of police.

“I feel very fortunate to lead an organization of top notch law enforcement professionals supported by a larger network of caring and compassionate stakeholders. It would be unfair to ask for more.”