Meet Dover’s new police chief

City of Dover’s new Police Chief Thomas A. Johnson Jr. meets Dover residents Ted Henderson and the Rev. Rita Paige after a press conference in the mayor’s office on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — A cross-trained paramedic and firefighter, newly appointed Dover Police Chief Thomas A. Johnson Jr., 51, professed a love for “all things public safety.”

The new chief spoke at an introductory news conference in the cramped confines of Mayor Robin R. Christiansen’s second-floor office at city hall late Tuesday afternoon.

“I love the service, I love the being there for life’s challenges,” he said.

Now a captain for the Upper Darby (Pennsylvania) Police Department, the rising chief is the second outside hire for Dover’s top position ever, following Delaware State Police recruit James E. Turner in 1949. He’s already determined that Dover PD “has (an excellent) reputation that precedes it” and believes the current officers “will get to know me very quickly.”

Also, the chief plans to reach out to community stakeholders to establish relationships and said he’ll spend time with anyone with a passion for Dover and its continued well being.

Those introductions must wait awhile, however — to complete projects in Upper Darby, the chief won’t take command of Dover’s force until sometime in early February.

Councilman William F. Hare said a “fresh set of eyes with no connections here,” could yield positive results.

New chief Johnson currently reports to Upper Darby’s Superintendent of Police, overseeing the Training and Professional Standards program. He’s commanding officer of the Accident Investigations, Training Division and Internal Affairs units and SWAT Chief Hostage and Crisis Negotiator, and has many leadership qualifications. He is an adjunct professor at three colleges as well.

Capt. Johnson’s Upper Darby career began as a patrol officer in 1996.

Upper Darby, a township of 83,000 bordering Philadelphia, shares similar cultural, demographic, ethnicity and neighborhood characteristics as Dover, Capt. Johnson said.

The upcoming chief was joined by his wife, brother, sister in law and daughter at Tuesday’s public introduction.

That was to be the official announcement of Dover’s new chief, but at some point Monday night during the Dover City Council meeting, the plan to introduce the candidate before council by qualifications only shifted to revealing the name of the recommended hire.

Council recessed into executive session for 55 minutes before resuming the public meeting that continued with the mayor’s presentation regarding Capt. Johnson. Selection committee council members Ralph L. Taylor Jr. and Mr. Hare then offered their thoughts, providing positive reviews of the process and proposed hire that council consented to unanimously.

Capt. Johnson joins Dover’s department in the wake of increased gun violence in the city. Police have investigated 13 shootings since Dec. 23. Nine people have been injured and a 15-year-old male was killed.

Ten of the shootings were within Dover Police jurisdiction, the other three were handled by Delaware State Police.

Council members reactions

On Tuesday, council members offered their thoughts on the hire via e-mail:

Fred A. Neil

“I was very pleased with the diversity of the Panel, and the in depth process they used in the selection process.

“There is every indication new Chief Johnson will be an asset to the City of Dover. He recognizes the outstanding closure rate in crime solving that leads to arrests by the Dover Police Department, He plans to use a flexible approach to shift officers to high crime area and emphasize community policing.”

Ralph Taylor Jr.

“Chief Thomas Johnson was selected from a pool of 22 incredible candidates from as far away as Missouri. He comes from a department of 135 sworn officers outside Philadelphia.

“He is a leader of leaders with a collaborative approach. He plans to use all city employees, concerned citizens, paramedics, school teachers etc. and not just law enforcement to identify troubled areas, gang activities, vacant buildings used for drug activities or any other criminal activities. Once the information is gathered, his approach is to use real time policing, social work and public health strategies to eradicate the problems and not just arrest the symptoms.

“He realizes that we can not arrest our way out of or current troubles but holds every officer accountable for doing the job expected of them. He is a proponent of continuous training and higher education, stating that a combination of the two makes for a more well rounded officer.

“The committee demands that our new chief live within the city limits. I personally would like that to be the mandate for every department head and higher throughout the city. In conclusion the committee is very satisfied with the selection of Chief Thomas Johnson and believes he will take our nationally accredited police department to new heights.”