Smyrna’s new police chief has close ties to town

Recently promoted Smyrna Police Chief Torrie M. James is pictured in front of the department on Friday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

SMYRNA — A tight-knit community has one of it’s own leading the police department.

New Chief Torrie M. James — who in February replaced retiring top cop Norman E. Wood in an interim role — has served with the agency for nearly two decades, graduated from Smyrna High, and is a lifetime member of Citizens’ Hose Company Station 44 after starting as a firefighter at age 16.

Oh, and he’s served as an assistant high school baseball coach for four years and 10 years in the Smyrna High School football program, currently leading the junior varsity team.

“Why wouldn’t you love it here?” he asked rhetorically on Friday afternoon. “It’s my hometown, this is what I know and love.

“It’s a community like no other. You have Friday night football games where the entire town shows up. You don’t see that support in other places.

“There’s just a special, tight-knit feeling here.”

The town has problems too. As is the case nationally, Smyrna has been troubled by the continuing opioid crisis and the substance abuse addiction and mental health concerns coming with it. In November 2018 a $47,000 federal grant added Connections Community Support Programs clinician/counselor Jim Deel to assist officers when needed.

“I’m a big proponent of the program,” Chief James said. “It’s very important to give people an opportunity to change their lives without arresting them.

“It gives our officers another tool. When you give someone the option for treatment it increases the chances of not re-offending and benefits the community with a lower amount of smaller crimes such as petty thefts, shoplifting and car break-ins.

Less than two weeks after becoming Smyrna’s new police chief, Torrie M. James works in his office Friday afternoon. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

“We just can’t arrest ourselves out of this.”

Since joining the department as a patrol officer in 2000, Chief James has steadily moved up the leadership chain to now lead the agency with an authorized strength of 25 officers. Town council unanimously selected him to take charge at its April 15 meeting, and his local career trajectory reached its apex.

“It’s a fine line between making sure the citizens are safe and overseeing the officers at the same time,” Chief James said.

“I’m now more of a manager and here to make sure my officers are doing what they’re supposed to be doing as far as serving the public.

“There’s also the responsibility of relating to the younger officers as well as just making sure we’re doing the right things.

“We’re held to a different standard and have to represent that when meeting the public and interacting with them.”

Additionally, the police department includes six full-time dispatchers and two administrative staffers. Police also oversee six school crossing guards and three seasonal lifeguards at Lake Como.

Emphasis on community

During his rise through the ranks, Chief James returned to his youthful roots when serving as SHS’s school resource officer for a year.

“It was an amazing opportunity that I always wanted to do,” he said. “When I got the chance to do it, it was an even better experience than I ever expected.

“It allowed me to interact with kids and have them see police officers in a different light. Ten years later I still stay in touch with some of them and they reach out to me as well.”

A stint with the Drug Enforcement Agency as a narcotics officer and being awarded as SPD’s officer of the year in 2007 are among other notable career accomplishments.

The chief plans to bring the community police unit back, release quarterly activity reports publicly and publicize more arrests and operations. He’s proud that a former Explorer program youth member was recently hired as a full-time officer when he grew up. A Junior Police Academy is set for two weeks this summer, and a second Citizens Police Academy is ongoing.

With continued growth in the town’s population — just more than 12,000 residents in the last census, more now — comes more crime in any town. Chief James said there’s a developing strategic plan and council is on board with it.

“They understand there’s a lot of growth and with more growth comes more problems,” Chief James said. “Council has been fantastic to work with and I expect that will continue to be the case moving forward.”

The chief plans to provide opportunity for officers to maintain physical fitness and positive mental health conditions. A health and wellness program is planned to assist in their lives on and off the jobs.

“We work crazy hours, shift work and in sometimes tense, stressful conditions,” he said. “We don’t eat and sleep well at times either so there’s a lot of personal well being to maintain on and off the job.”

Chief James becomes Smyrna’s second African-American ascending to lead the town’s police force — Wilbert Bordley left in January 2014 to teach constitutional law and criminal investigations courses at Delaware Technical Community College.

“I think it’s very important to the community and shows we’re diverse,” Chief James said. “We need to be a direct reflection of our community.

“This isn’t about me though, it’s about the men and women of Smyrna PD who are doing the work day to day.”

A popular pick

Roughly 95 percent of Smyrna’s police officers attended the council meeting announcing the promotion. The public responded as well — as of late Friday afternoon, 435 glowing comments were posted on the Smyrna PD’s Facebook page including, among others:

• Thank you for all your years in keeping us all safe!”

•“Outstanding!!!! I’ll never forget what he did for my family!!! Class Act inside and out! Congratulations Sir!!!!”

•“Congratulations!!!! That is amazing!!! I’m sure he will do great things for the Town of Smyrna!!!! Go get em Chief!!!”

•“That is great, Congratulations Torrie, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. Thank you for being a mentor during my sons seasons at SHS.”

•“Proud of you Torrie M. James your hard work and dedication is recognized and appreciated !!! Congratulations.”

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