Top choice for Dover Police chief to be revealed Thursday

DOVER — Who will it be?

Have you heard anything?

One city official described the decision as “hush-hush” earlier this week.

There’s no “buzz” about it, said another.

A police officer described the process as “tight lipped.”

While it’s debatable who should become Dover’s new police chief, there’s no disputing the city’s selection committee can keep a secret.

Robin Christiansen

When Mayor Robin R. Christiansen reveals his nomination for top cop before city council on Thursday, it will apparently be news to almost everyone.

The eight-member city council must approve any candidate with a majority vote. A tie sends the process back to the committee.

The special city council meeting open to the public is scheduled for 5 p.m. at City Hall at 15 Loockerman Street.

In the past few days, several elected officials, police officers and community leaders professed no knowledge on who the upcoming selection will be or even rumored to be.

The mayor, City Councilmen President Tim Slavin and James Hutchison, Human Resources Director Kim Hawkins, and Acting City Manager Donna Mitchell discussed the vacancy in private sessions at City Hall for months, and the matter apparently stayed between them.

At least one official is purposely avoiding speculation.

“I do not know who is the nominee,” Councilman David Anderson said Wednesday. “I hope that he or she is introduced properly to the community, therefore I have not inquired about the name at this time.”

Offering not even the slightest hint was Mr. Hutchison.

“There’s no question that the person (nominated) will be extremely capable of taking over leadership of the police department and moving forward with objectives and goals that will best serve the needs of our great city,” he said.

Former Police Chief Paul Bernat announced his retirement in December 2016, and Deputy Chief Maj. Marvin Mailey has overseen operations as senior officer since January.

Seven candidates emerged and were offered opportunity for interviews earlier this month, while 27 qualified applicants were pared from the list and another missed the filing deadline, the mayor said.

While Mayor Christiansen ultimately had final say in choosing the No. 1 candidate to present, he repeatedly pledged to weigh the entire committee’s discussion and opinions to produce a consensus choice.

“We had a lot of discussions back and forth, “ he said. ‘It was good to sit down with a team of five that has such a variety of backgrounds and experience to consider a lot of ideas and thoughts.”

Mr. Slavin, Ms. Hawkins and Ms. Mitchell did not return requests for comment this week.

Though Mr. Christiansen originally targeted the end of April as time present the nomination, he recently said the committee was still right where it wanted to be.

Sifting through applications

Reading through 37 qualified applications and scheduling seven candidates for interview takes time. Differentiating between a host of strong nominees can’t be done quickly, Mr. Hutchison said.

“There were many applicants that were well qualified and could absolutely handled the job,” he said.

Councilman Roy Sudler isn’t comfortable voting on a nominee when he doesn’t know who the other finalists were. He doesn’t think the vote is “fair” to council without reviewing other candidates credentials.

“Council members have no idea💡 as to what criteria was voted on as the merit for the most desirable candidate,” he said.

Referencing “serious reservations about the transparency of the process,” Mr. Sudler thinks the method of selecting a police chief should be reviewed and adjusted “in the near future.”

The councilman said he’s uncomfortable with the search committee meetings that are closed to the public.

For now, however, Mr. Sudler said “I’m praying that this process doesn’t cost the constituents of Dover undue financial and tax hardship.”

Taking a different point of view was Councilman Scott Cole who pointed to “faith that the committee is going to be making the best recommendation possible.
“This process was voted on by council and passed to help find the best candidate in the best way possible.”

Whoever the new chief is, Mr. Cole has “no doubt that the men and women of the Dover PD will be led by progressive, forward thinking leader who will have the best interests of the citizens, community and the membership of the Dover PD when announced as the new chief.”

Taking a wait and see approach, Councilman Fred Neil said, “I will save judgments after the selection committee has done its work.’

It’s necessary that the new leader “command the respect of the police force he or she will lead, to serve and protect all of our citizens, and reach out the population by social interaction to show fairness and inclusion in the ring of protection,” Mr. Neil said.

“I would hope the new chief will think proactively  in the area of crime prevention.”

Community in need

Society today is never more in need of effective police work and parenting, Mr. Neil said.

“When I was growing up, thanks to my parents, we viewed police officers  as protectors and friends,” he said. “We did not have explosion of illegal drugs that is the breeding ground of much of the crime we face.

“This is where parents can provide the foundation of love and caring where kids and young adults don’t have to turn to illegals drugs that make them feel good but lead to a form of slavery.”

While the city conducted a nationwide search for candidates, some thought it was unnecessary.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why the City had to use limited resources for a national search,” Central Delaware NAACP President La Mar Gunn said.

“I strongly believe the right person for the job is already a member of our police department.”

Since progress has been made in community-police relations, Mr. Gunn hopes the new leader can continue the momentum.

“I pray that the new chief is someone who is focused on continuing what has started in Dover recently with Paul Bernat and leaders of the minority community,” he said.

“We’ve started a new chapter with the community and Dover PD working together to improve the quality of life for all that live and/or work here.

“In the spirit of progress, I expect that our elected officials will continue our bridge building efforts by selecting one of the two fine candidates from within our department.”

Councilman Brian Lewis, a former Washington D.C. police officer, hopes any new chief focuses “first and foremost on transparency, something I firmly believe in as a local leader.

“The citizens of Dover need to know what is going on in their community and how their tax dollars are being spent with police service.

Additionally, Mr. Lewis said, “I would like to see the new police chief be a boots on the ground leader.

“ ‘Being out in the field with his troops’ I think it is an important aspect to have familiarity with the community you serve and be visible. The new chief should be open-minded and committed to diversity, especially in a City like Dover which is culturally diverse.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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