Dover police chief prefers manpower over technology

 

DOVER — While gunfire shootings continue to be a major issue within the city of Dover, the answer to the problem is not solely based on technology, according to Police Chief Marvin Mailey.

Dover City Councilman David Anderson brought up the potential for bringing some newly developed SpotShotter-type technology to the city during a discussion at last Tuesday’s Council Committee of the Whole Meeting at City Hall.

For more than a year, Dover officials have been looking at possibly bringing a system designed to quickly identify and locate the exact spot of gunshots when they are fired.

City officials nixed pursuing such a system at a meeting on Aug. 23, 2016.

Chief Mailey said he would prefer manpower to address the problem.

“Technology is great,” Chief Mailey said. “We use it in a lot of parts of our police department to help us do our jobs better and perform more efficiently, but I would always rather have the manpower.

“I can tell you from my standpoint, there’s nothing that trumps an officer being in a squad car and being able to respond to that area. The (ShotSpotter-type) technology puts us at that exact spot, there’s no guesswork in looking around. It gets us to the spot quicker, but nothing trumps manpower.”

Marvin Mailey

Chief Mailey noted that he wasn’t actively asking the city to provide him with additional police officers during the discussion, which ended with Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee members tabling the issue until more information could be gathered.

Councilman Anderson brought the issue back due to what he described as technological advances being made to ShotSpotter-type systems, some that also now incorporate cameras and LED lighting that work together and may increase the chances of finding the shooters.

He said the shootings need to be addressed, especially considering that from the end of February until July 21, a total of 19 people had been killed or wounded in 15 gunfire incidents within and just outside of Dover’s city limits.

“We have a very important issue in our city and, in spite of the fact that we have one of the finest police forces in the region, I believe there’s just a human element that happens when it comes to these shootings,” Councilman Anderson said. “Sometimes when your hear (gunshots), it’s very hard with the echoes and ricochets to know exactly where they’re coming from.

“Our police officers respond very quickly to these calls, usually within a couple of minutes. They’re there. They’re looking. They’re on scene. But a lot of times they’re spread out because they’re not sure where the problem is.”

Police currently investigate gunfire by moving from one block to another in a search for shell casings while speaking with possible witnesses on the street at the same time, Chief Mailey said.

ShotSpotter-type systems register gunfire noise through triangulation technology to help pinpoint an exact location, police said.

A system would use several audio devices or sound listening posts placed throughout the city, “and they would be able to pick up the noise, report it to a (call) center, de-conflict that noise as a backfire from a car or other device, and report it to (police) to determine the location,” according to authorities.

The price of technology

Chief Mailey said SpotShotter-type technology has received a mixture of positive and negative results among other police departments he has talked to.

ShotSpotter itself would cost the city $235,000 in its first year alone and $195,000 per year in subsequent years. The equipment would be leased and not bought.

Similar systems, such as Verbi, have different pricing options. Verbi would cost more money up front and less over time.

“What is a reasonable question is ‘Can we do more to help (the police) be a lot more efficient?,’” Councilman Anderson said. “The important part is to get something to start putting so much heat on these criminals that they find somewhere else to go, where they know that the risk of getting caught is getting too high.”

He added that with the newer available systems, the city could qualify for energy-saving grants, public safety grants and even transportation spending grants if it decided to install the technology.

However, Mayor Robin Christiansen cautioned, grant money does eventually run out and the city could be left holding the check book in later years.

“I think it’s something that we really have to think out as to whether we want to move forward on it, not only for the success of the program, but the actual costs while being on a budget,” the mayor said.

Small footprint

Councilman Fred Neil was concerned that most of the current ShotSpotter-type systems only cover an area of around five miles.

“When we looked at this before, the area that we talked about is very narrow,” Councilman Neil said. “We’re looking at a pot of money to help protect our citizens.

“The question is, ‘Is it best spent on this particular item to cover three, four or five miles, versus what the city (actually) is?’”

He added, “If that money can be used for additional (police officers), additional services or other things, I think that’s what we’re weighing at this particular point.”

Chief Mailey said a ShotSpotter-type system is a lot of money to invest in a small segment of Dover, although it would be of a benefit.

“The cost of the product is tremendous,” he said. “It would greatly help our capacity in responding to shots fired complaints. It would put us at the spot we needed to be with no guesswork within seconds of the shots being fired.”

However, he noted, it would still be too late to prevent the shots from happening in the first place.

Last summer, Chief Mailey rated the need for a ShotSpotter-type system as a “1 or 2” on a scale of 10 regarding top priorities. He maintained money would be better spent on adding equipment, cameras and officers to the department.

Confidence in the chief

City council members, during their latest discussion regarding the ShotSpotter technology, eventually deferred to Chief Mailey and what he thought the city needed to address the shootings.

“I would argue that we need more officers and we need to re-engage community policing to really make an impact,” Councilman Tanner Polce said.

“I think that would have to be a judgement that I would look towards Chief Mailey to give us the idea on how this is to be (addressed), said Councilman Neil.

Chief Mailey, on multiple occasions during the discussion, said he prefers actual manpower over new technologies.

Plus, he said, his department is currently zeroing in on the gun violence problems that plague the city.

“Without going into too much detail, we’ve identified the problem,” Chief Mailey said. “We’ve addressed the problem quite successfully. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but we’re making in-roads, we’re making a lot of progress.

“My people are working hard. We’ve got a good plan and I’ve got great people and our plan’s working. When it comes down to it, I would always rather have people than technical support.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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