Dover PD to receive NAACP award

La Mar T. Gunn

La Mar T. Gunn

DOVER — La Mar Gunn still receives complaints from citizens about police behavior in their city.

He’s getting a lot less of them, though.

That’s significant progress from 12 months ago, he said.

“You can’t say you don’t feel more safe than the year before,” said the president of the NAACP’s Central Delaware chapter earlier this week.

At the 2016 Annual Freedom Fund Banquet, the Dover Police Department and Chief Paul Bernat will receive a President’s Award that honors “a local organization that promotes positive relationships within our community,” according to the local NAACP branch.

Announcing the event, the NAACP said, “Under the leadership of Chief Bernat, the Dover Police Department has become the national model for what it means to build bridges of trust or partnerships between law enforcement and the African American Community.

Chief Paul Bernat

Chief Paul Bernat

The gala will be held Saturday, Sept. 10, at 6:30 p.m., at the Grand Lodge at 1412 W. College Road in Dover. Tickets are $50 and must be purchased in advance.

For tickets, call Mr. Gunn at 218-6407 or e-mail freedomfundgalade.gmail.com for more information.

Other honorees at the gala include the Rev. Rita Paige, Don and Delores Blakey, Amillion the Poet, Chief Master Sgt. Robert Johnson, Bennie Smith Funeral Home, Frederick A. Duffy and Aaron Appling of Homes Village.

The gala’s theme is “All Lives Matter, Our Votes Count”; Pastor Anthony Wallace of Crossroad Christian Church is the keynote speaker.

The event is a fundraiser for the NAACP’s mission, which includes scholarships for Central Delaware youth and continued focus on “economical, health, education, and race relation issues that impact all Americans,” organizers said in a letter to supporters.

Police are honored

The honor was well-received by Dover Police, who were billed as a “Champion of Change” through the award.

“I am extremely proud of the men and women of the Dover Police Department for the work they have done within our community to show that our agency is here to help everyone,” Chief Bernat said in a news release.

“Receiving this award is an honor and a symbol of the hard work our officers are doing to build relationships in our community.

“However, the true reward is seeing the smiles on children’s faces at our community outreach events, the conversations we are having in our communities, and the changes we are making in people’s lives.

“We enjoy having a partnership with the Central Delaware NAACP Branch and look forward to making more progress in our city.”

The good vibes haven’t always existed in Delaware’s capital city.

As tensions boiled in late 2015 regarding the case of a Dover police officer accused and found not guilty of assaulting an African-American suspect during a 2013 apprehension,

Mr. Gunn believes the city’s strong fabric prevented touchy issues from tearing the community apart and brought opportunity to unite through shared goals.

Mr. Gunn said Dover PD responded with a push for more community outreach and communication with the residents they protect and serve, and he found Chief Bernat to be quite approachable.

“Minds are like parachutes — they work if they are open,” Mr. Gunn said. “Dover Police have come to the table with open minds, open ears and open hearts.

While “there’s still a lot of work to do,” Mr. Gunn said he was “proud of the police department because they admit they have a lot to do and are willing to further engage the community moving forward.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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