Pace of shootings in Dover has slowed

Marvin Mailey

DOVER — It wasn’t a public emergency, authorities said, but perhaps not far from one.

Bullets were striking people and property weekly, if not daily at times, in Delaware’s capital city.

By May 26, there had been 23 shootings in 2017, many within the past few weeks.

The pace would shatter the 40 and 39 shootings, respectively, in all of 2016 and 2015.

“I wouldn’t say we were in crisis mode, but it’s safe to say that the numbers at that time were deeply concerning,” Police Chief Marvin Mailey said earlier this week.

“Insufficient action could have potentially led to the city being in crisis mode, but again, these crimes often come and go in waves and are often closely related to the drug trade.”

Thankfully, the gunfire appears to have waned lately.

There was just one shooting each in August and September, and two in June. The seven in July haven’t been approximated since.

Police are enjoying a wary sense of success in their strategies, but understand violent crime rates are often unpredictable.

“Based on the numbers, it appears that we have been effective in our efforts over the past several months in reducing violence in Dover,” Chief Mailey said.

“However, we know these things are often cyclical and that there is still work to be done.”

So what’s working?

Police have designated foot patrol assignments in the downtown area, Chief Mailey said, and will divert them to high crime/high activity areas on an as needed basis.

“In addition, we have also used a stat driven approach in how we deploy our manpower, locations, times of day, etc.” Dover’s top cop said,

Specific strategies can’t be divulged, but Chief Mailey said “we have a multi-faceted approach involving every unit within the department to address quality of life issues as well as drug and gang related crimes in the city.”

Police presence matters

Wanda Mullen, President of the Towne Point Civic Association, said she’s noticed an increased police patrol presence in her neighborhood. Her state of mind has improved with it.

“It definitely minimizes the anxiety and fear,” she said. “They’re out here more than ever. The more visibility you have the safer people feel.”

Towne Pointe is home to many retired military members and senior citizens, and Ms. Mullen said she’s urged them to call 911 when they fear for their safety. She believes police will quickly respond to any concerns.

“I can say that when I call (police) they show up,” she said.

Ms. Mullen believes that Mayor Robin R. Christiansen and police “sent a message loud and clear that these problems will be addressed at the highest level and with the upmost importance.”

“We took this job to serve our city,” Chief Mailey said. “Many of our officers grew up in or near Dover, and many still live in the city or really close by. We care about our city and are as invested in making sure that Dover is a safe place as anyone else.

The mayor pointed to a “zero tolerance” policy of officers enforcing even the slightest of offenses to curb ongoing bad behavior and described it as “not a joke.”

Describing the police “laser focus” of targeting the main causes of violence with “innovative strategies,” Councilman Brian Lewis, who chairs the Safety Advisory and Transportation Subcommittee, said the tactics “are clearly keeping the lid on the violent crime.

“That being said, this is not a one and done situation but a continuum that will most likely require additional resources in the near future.”

The city’s 11 shooting incidents since May 26 included two homicides, five persons struck and five cases of reckless endangering/criminal mischief where a home or vehicle was struck.

State of safety

While statistics showed an increase in gun violence, Mr. Lewis said the numbers weren’t indicative of the entire state of safety in Dover.

“We did have an uptick of gun violence for a while, but it was generally confined to small areas in the city,” Mr Lewis said. “Being a small city, just one or two incidents can make the rate per whatever go sky high and give a false impression.

“Dover will be a safe city. However, any uptick in gun violence is unacceptable and needed to be addressed; and it was. The publicity was certainly negative and sensationalized and did not tell the entire story.”

Lauding the work of law enforcement on the street and what he believes is increased community involvement with police, Mayor Christiansen said, “People in this community want to live in a safe town and I as mayor along with Chief Mailey are going to make that happen.”

Crime solving is reportedly still slowed by a lack of input by witnesses, according to Chief Mailey.

“We still struggle with cooperation from victims and community members,” he said. “This is an issue that has plagued law enforcement for a long time.
“We continue to make efforts to build stronger bonds with our citizens through community outreach so they have positive relationships with our agency, but we are also continuing to find ways to overcome the lack of cooperation and solve crimes.

Councilman David Anderson maintains, “We have some of the best police-community relations in America.”

After a ride-along with city police on a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. patrol shift, Councilman Matt Lindell surmised, “ police-community relations are in a good state at this point in time. …

“We responded to a variety of calls, and I can say that the interactions between officers and citizens at the scene were professional. I believe we need to continue to expand our existing efforts in regard to community policing as this strategy is the cornerstone of maintaining effective communication and building upon the shared responsibility of making our community a better place for all to live.

“As I like to say, our community is better when we work together.”

Affecting the economy

There’s a dollars and cents factor at work, too, Mr. Anderson said.

“Shootings are never good for attracting people to live, worship or invest anywhere,” according to the councilman. “Security is an economic development necessity.”

At the time, the shootings drew significant media coverage with each police report of the latest violent confrontation.

“I think the negative publicity in regard to shootings does hurt the image of the city,” Mr. Lindell said. “One’s perception has a great tendency to influence one’s reality, and when one hears of shootings in Dover (and even the shootings outside of city limits (Alder Park), a negative perception of our city is a result.

“I do not think that this is an accurate depiction of our city. Do we have issues with crime? Yes; however, we are addressing this challenge; and we have many great things that are going on in our city, which do not always get the attention of the media.”

Noting that “officers have done a tremendous job at identifying potential threats and curbing the recent outbreak in violence,” Councilman Tanner Wm. Polce said, “We need to continue to move the needle and band together as a community if we truly want to make an impact on violent crimes across our city.”

Opining that “There just is no silver bullet to put an end to crime,” Mr. Lewis continued with “It takes the entire criminal justice system and community to work collaboratively to solve the problem. From the individual’s perspective, always have an enhanced sense of situational awareness. Most importantly, if you see something, say something. Call 911 if you see anything suspicious.”

Though there’s always the possibility of being randomly shot or accosted, involvement in illegal drug activity clearly increases the chance of being the target of a firearm.

Chief Mailey thinks he can “safely say that the large majority, If not nearly every single one, can be attributed to drug or gang activity of some sort.”

Without going into detail, Chief Mailey he offers, “we continue to gather intelligence, pursue investigations, and crack down on gang activity. Often times, we work with other state and federal authorities to address the issues we face.”

Mr. Anderson has pushed for improved and additional technology to address Dover’s crime, while also believing on keeping feet on the ground.

“We do need to keep up foot/bike patrols except during the winter,” he said. “We need ‘Spotshotter’ (that immediately identifies a gunshot’s location upon discharge) to supplement their policework. We need to finish installing the technology upgrades to allow real time camera monitoring.

“Nothing substitutes for old time policework, but it can be enhanced.”

Shootings magnified

Councilman Fred Neil applauded police for their work and said, ”The shootings in Dover proper are usually drug related by outsiders. I am proud the our police closure rate on these shootings (and criminal acts).

“The size of our population versus small towns magnifies each shooting that pales in comparison with large cities with much larger populations. As a result, any shooting in Dover is magnified because we are the (state capital).”

There’s a randomness to crime that can’t be avoided, Mr. Neil said.

“You can’t prevent a shooting if someone is intent on doing harm, he said. “That includes the Secret Service trying to protect our President. As for the unprotected, look at the nut who fired on the elected Republican congressional delegation preparing for a softball game with their Democratic colleagues. Then there is Las Vegas.”

Taking a positive approach to community relations, Councilman Scott Cole said, “I am supportive of the efforts of Chief Mailey, the police department and all stakeholders who are looking at attacking the issue on many fronts to deal with this issue.

“I believe that the relationships are growing and headed in a positive manner. The education of the community and the police department with each other has and must continue to be facilitated from the youngest children to our seniors.”

Also, Mr. Cole said, “Public perception and my perception may differ.

“The city is looking to increase lighting in the downtown areas and has strongly backed the ‘Lights On’ effort by various organizations. We are also looking to LED lighting for more lighting and cost electricity savings for the taxpayer. Our commitment to the Police Cadet program is another way to change perceptions and add more eyes and a deterrent in Dover.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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