Commentary: Dover needs more police officers

By David Anderson

The city of Dover is facing several challenges, as is the nation. We are dealing with a spike in crime that coincides with 14 empty police positions. Group A offenses, such as criminal homicide, robbery and aggravated assault, rose 28.5% in one year. Drug overdoses jumped 50%. Shootings went from just over one a month to 38 last year. Lesser property crimes, like breaking into unattended vehicles, jumped 75%. Much of the crime was fueled by drugs.

Crime is rising after a three-year drop. What changed? Dover was staffed at 2015 levels, with only an average of 87 officers, sometimes lower. Unsurprisingly, when we went back to 2015 staffing levels, we went back to 2015 crime levels, which encouraged us to increase our police force. Fewer police officers equals more crime.

Some well-meaning people demanded defunding of the Dover Police Department, resulting in a couple dozen emails. When word got out, people in Dover sent hundreds of emails in support of the police department. When I walked the neighborhoods, people spoke of the need for more community policing.

When we hired Chief Thomas Johnson, we charged him with presenting a plan to lower crime. He did so at the Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee meeting. He not only wants to bring back community policing and the motorcycle unit, but community engagement as well and proposed utilizing grants to pay for it the first three years. He also proposed expanding from an authorized strength of 101 to 106. We are currently hiring to move toward our current authorized strength. The hiring process of a new officer takes months, then approximately a year of training, and COVID-19 has slowed the process even more.

Where do we stand in relationship to other police departments in the area?

Salisbury, Maryland, has 20% fewer people but the same number of officers as we now have employed. They also benefit from a 91-member county sheriff’s department. Annapolis, Maryland, has a similar population and 40 more officers. Bringing Dover to 106 would place us around two dozen officers behind Annapolis. My point is that the chief’s numbers are reasonable.

I am not a fan of just spending money and hiring more people. The officers must be deployed properly. It is not just about hiring more people, but ensuring they are the right people and utilized properly. The plan outlined gave me hope. We asked Chief Johnson for a plan, now will we accept it?

We need more police, not fewer. Council needs to hear what you have to say. Email your view in care of cityclerk@dover.de.us.

We know that police are only one leg of a four-legged stool to a long-run program to reduce crime. We need community development to be as important as economic development. I am working on that.

We need workforce development, ex-offender workforce training and placement, and neighborhood revitalization. We need to reach our youth. We have a Police Athletic League program that we would love to expand. We are revamping the parks. We are working with the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance to develop family programming in cooperation with the Capital School District and more.

The fourth leg in this is that we need to address the drug problem differently. That strategy is being formed. None of this works without security. A well-trained, equipped, funded and diverse police department with modern technology is the cornerstone of any crime-reduction strategy.

On Monday, Dover City Council votes on the chief’s proposal. Let’s make sure that part of the four-legged stool is secure.

David L. Anderson is 4th District councilman for the city of Dover.