Rising crime stats in downtown Dover offset good news in annual police report

DOVER — While crime issues in downtown Dover clearly escalated in 2014, police at least believe solutions are forthcoming.

Overall, however, the city saw an 18 percent decrease in violent crime, according to Dover Police Department’s annual report presented to Mayor Robin Christiansen and city council on Monday, and posted online at doverpolice.org.

Crimes involving homicides, burglary, assault, drugs, fraud and theft all increased by at least 30 percent in the downtown area, and some much more, according to Dover police report.

“The report shows that Dover is not a dangerous city, but does have areas in need of some work,” said Chief Paul Bernat, who succeeded retiring Chief James Hosfelt on April 4, 2014.

Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat

Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat

“I believe the downtown statistics will dramatically change (in the coming year). It will take time, but I feel it will definitely happen.”

Mayor Christiansen, who oversees the police department, agreed that downtown area problems need addressing. “Basically, we live in a safe city compared to cities of our approximate size across the nation,” he noted.

Echoing those thoughts was Dover City Councilman David Anderson.

“I am pleased with the progress that we are achieving in regards to lower rates of crime,” he said.

“Now we need to focus on the next phase and reclaim our downtown. The heart of our city needs to be healthy for the whole of it to be healthy.”

The police department recently received authorization for five more officers, who should be ready to graduate from the academy in just less than six months. City council will look at ways to fund five more slots after that, which would up the officer strength to 102.

Council President David Bonar said the 2014 crime numbers indicate the addition of law enforcement personnel is warranted.

“The report is clear that while minor crimes have decreased 10 percent, serious crimes have increased dramatically in certain areas,” Mr. Bonar said.

“It lends support to our decision to bring aboard more police officers. Anytime you have burglaries, thefts, drug investigations, assaults increase by that amount it tells me were highly justified in making sure our police force is augmented.”

Dover police detectives gather evidence at a shooting near the corner of North Kirkwood and West Division Streets last August. One goal detailed in the Dover Police Department’s annual report is to upgrade its Community Policing Unit and encourage meetings with Neighborhood Watch groups. (Delaware State News file photo/Dave Chambers)

Dover police detectives gather evidence at a shooting near the corner of North Kirkwood and West Division Streets last August. One goal detailed in the Dover Police Department’s annual report is to upgrade its Community Policing Unit and encourage meetings with Neighborhood Watch groups. (Delaware State News file photo/Dave Chambers)

Police were stymied in several shooting investigations that remain unsolved, with limited cooperation from the public in some.

“One of the big hurdles we face at times are uncooperative victims and the lack of witnesses willing to come forth,” Chief Bernat said. “When both occur it is very difficult to solve the crime.”

Also troubling, Chief Bernat said, were issues at hotels on U.S. 13/DuPont Highway, including sporadic shooting and drug dealing cases. That will be addressed through patrol and surveillance operations.
Council has approved a crime analyst/accreditation manager position, tasked with overseeing crime mapping, providing incident reports to the command staff, monitoring human resources trends such as overtime, and much more.

Also, Chief Bernat plans to interview 12 candidates for six part-time cadet positions designed to up law enforcement’s street-level presence in the downtown area, connecting with business owners and patrons, and providing service and security to anyone in the district. The cadets will carry Tasers and pepper spray.
Burglaries, robberies solved

Working with stretched resources in 2014, police investigations cleared 72 percent of robberies committed and 55 percent of the burglaries, outpacing national averages, according to Dover police. Also solved were all four bank robberies perpetrated within city limits.

“Dover is not a place to commit a burglary or robbery because there’s a (strong likelihood of an arrest being made),” Chief Bernat said.

The Dover Police Department hopes to upgrade its Community Policing Unit when new officers are patrol-ready, allowing for meetings with Neighborhood Watch groups and apartment managers while updating them on crime trends and tips to avoid issues.

Also, Mayor Christiansen said there’s a plan to revive the Street Crimes Unit.

While much effort has been put in on the state and federal levels to thwart ongoing serious crime issues in Wilmington, Chief Bernat is concerned that a criminal element might migrate south to Dover, attracted to rundown areas in downtown.

“We don’t want the bad guys coming down to Dover and setting up to conduct illegal activities such as drug dealing,” Chief Bernat said. “If there are potholes, trash, cars parked in the grass, loud noise from residences, that’s a sign that there’s a lack of concern for just what goes on there. Rundown neighborhoods and areas often attract criminals who can see it as a place to do their business.”
Collaboration needed

Collaboration from numerous wide-ranging entities can cut down the danger which comes with downtown visits and to those living and doing business there, Chief Bernat said. Also key is a supportive city council that is behind law enforcement’s efforts, he said.

Dover’s inclusion through the state as a Downtown Development District will serve to boost investments and community progress through granted benefits and incentives to settle in the city, bringing residential real estate and business enterprise to the area.

Working together with the Dover Housing Authority, City Planning and Inspection unit, Wesley College, Dover’s Economic Development Department, NCALL, Dover Interfaith Mission for Housing and others, police hope a concerted effort can bring results that benefit all.

Habitat for Humanity home constructions also should invigorate a downtown population that’s between 75 percent and 85 percent rental driven, Chief Bernat said.

Department highlights

In 2014, Dover Police Department reported it received nearly $370,000 in grant funding from various county, state and federal entities.

Another highlight was qualifying for Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement status, a national honor that only eight departments in Delaware hold.

“What the CALEA recognition means is that the Dover Police Department is proactive, well trained and well staffed in areas of need and doing a job that meets national standards,” Mayor Christiansen said.

On Nov. 12, 2014, Dover police unveiled its new medication return box in the lobby, and approximately 104 pounds of prescription drugs and pills were deposited for disposal, keeping them out of the hands of children and those who might sell them illegally, authorities said.

The department began posting shoplifting arrest notifications online in August 2014, and saw a 19 percent drop during the four-month trial, which keyed a 12 percent drop for the entire year.

Also, 36 surveillance cameras were added into the downtown district area, upping the total to 71 overall.

Through a Neighborhood Building Blocks Fund grant, 14 more cameras have been requested.

Dover used civilians in two positions in its Sex Offender Unit, allowing for two more uniformed officers to go onto patrol.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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