New Dover Police chief has ‘targeted’ response for recent gun violence

Dover Police Chief Thomas A. Johnson Jr. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — There’s no overwhelming, public show of force currently planned.

The city’s recent surge in shootings, four of them fatal and often involving teens, is well known, however.

“Targeting the whole community, that doesn’t work,” Police Chief Thomas Johnson Jr. said Wednesday.

“What that does is turn the whole community against the police.”

Dover’s new top cop doesn’t want folks to be underwhelmed by strategy designed to root out violent suspects either.

“Any response will be targeted and evidence based, designed to address current problems we are having,” Chief Johnson said while purposely not describing any individual strategy.

“Each investigation will be based on the facts and specifics of that case, trying to understand people and their motivations.

“Not everyone wants to cooperate with our efforts but we want to have a long term relationship with residents who choose to help reach collaborative, mutually beneficial resolutions for the community as a whole.”

City police are investigating three deadly incidents on Feb. 10, Jan. 24 and Jan. 6. Teens were felled in the first two shootings.

Delaware State Police have a fatal case to solve in its jurisdiction after an 18-year-old male died from apparent gunshot wounds Tuesday.

“It’s no secret that my arrival coincided with a spike in gun violence in important parts of the city,” Chief Johnson said.

“This is not typical of Dover but we can’t tolerate it either and allow the violence convert into becoming the new normal.”

There are a lot of crimes to solve — at least 12 shooting incidents have erupted since Dec. 23, killing or wounding at least 18 victims, according to police reports. Nine incidents occurred in Dover Police jurisdiction, three in DSP coverage area.

Multiple shots fired complaints have been called in as well.

Several teens were either injured or arrested during gun-related incidents, including possession of firearms cases.

“It shows you have far out in front you have to be with your educational efforts,” Chief Johnson said. “Police has to be more than enforcement, it has to involve a strong component of education and mentoring.

“Our School Resource Officers must play a role and we have to collaborate with teachers and administrators to do our part. Police officers are not experts on that and while we can have an impact, there are quality professionals well equipped to take the lead.

“We can’t be the principal force in helping our kids while in an educational setting.”

‘Priority No. 1’

Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen, who oversees the police department said “priority No. 1” is stopping youth-driven violence that’s ruining or ending futures, and quelling incidents overall that are “happening in small pockets but giving the entire city a black eye.”

Along with his clear concern for public safety, Mayor Christiansen says the city is being affected economically when it comes to bringing jobs and businesses to Dover.

“It’s harder to convince people to come here if they are concerned about a perceived high level of crime,” he said. “Also we’ve got infrastructure to replace and the folks on Wall Street read and clip out the articles describing what’s happening here.

“That makes issuing bonds and borrowing money a whole lot tougher and we absolutely must bring a stop to what’s impacting the entire city in a negative way.”

The mayor likes what he’s seen so far from Chief Johnson.

“Over the last 2 1/2 weeks I continue to discover why he was such a good choice to become our next police chief,” he said.

“He’s well spoken and articulate and very community oriented. He’s a cops cop who is working well with our staff.

“Chief Johnson is looking at our staff numbers and working with (Deputy Chief) Maj. Tim Stump to determine how to best use our resources to the fullest advantage.”

Problems nationwide

According to the chief, Dover is experiencing what many communities nationwide face — chronic conditions, socioeconomic issues, drugs, gangs large factors triggering the violence. Delaware’s capital city has a population of almost 40,000.

As the chief settles into his new office — he retired from the Upper Darby Township (Pa.) Police Department and began in Dover earlier this month — he’s focused on solving serious problems in concert with “community involvement that is “priceless.”

“Dover is still small enough to create, establish and maintain great personal relationships,” Chief Johnson said. “People here will remain people to me and I won’t ever let them slip into becoming just numbers in a report. There’s a face and a name to everyone and it’s extremely important to always remember that.”

Since arriving from the Philadelphia area, Chief Johnson said he’s been welcomed by law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal level. Open communication and shared information will go a long way in the progress of cases, he said.

Inside the department at 400 S. Queen Street, Deputy Chief Maj. Tim Stump’s experience has been invaluable for Chief Johnson, who described himself as a “dry sponge trying to absorb as much information as possible, as quickly as possible.”

Deputy Chief Stump served several months as interim chief following Marvin Mailey’s retirement last year.

“Tim is going to invest the hours and time to create a smooth as transition as possible,” Chief Johnson said. “Of course there are a million variables that will come up, but he’s not going to step away without making me as comfortable as possible before that occurs.”