Dover police chief reports soaring crime numbers in 2019

DOVER — The most serious of crimes spiked last year in the capital city, and the first half of 2020 was marked by a surge in shootings, including three murder cases.

Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson presented the city’s annual 2019 department recap during Monday night’s virtual City Council meeting and described the numbers as “alarming.”

The 65-page report — which also detailed staffing, programs in place and more — is available online at doverpolice.org in the News section.

Overall, Group A offenses, such as criminal homicide, robbery and aggravated assault, among others, rose 28.5%, from 4,902 in 2018 to 6,299 in 2019, according to police.

Dover Police Chief Thomas A. Johnson Jr. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Shootings skyrocketed from 16 to 38, a 138% increase. Officers seized 136 firearms in 2019, compared to 80 the previous year, an uptick of 70%.

The number of property crimes rose 75.9%, about which Chief Johnson commented, “Yes, we went back and double-checked” the stats. He attributed much of the increase to unattended and unlocked vehicles, or crimes of opportunity.

Burglaries were up 36.3%, while drug offenses — often tied to gang activity, the chief noted — rose 20.3% from 719 to 865. Drug overdoses climbed from 30 to 45, a 50% rise.

Vehicle crashes — especially heavy on U.S. 13 — rose from 1,856 to 2,014, and manpower constraints limited traffic enforcement operations, the chief explained.

Police solved many of the crimes, according to Chief Johnson, including all four homicides, 75% of robberies, 74% of burglaries and 64% of aggravated assaults. The report determined that clearance rates “far exceeded national averages for the seventh straight year.”

Sworn in as the 15th chief of the Dover Police Department earlier this year, Mr. Johnson’s staff reorganization continues, and distribution of work is currently “a fluid situation” regarding where everyone begins their workweek.

DPD has 89 working officers and four recruits ready to train with an authorized strength of 101. The department has eight vacancies for which the chief is currently reviewing “dozens of candidates.” Anything short of overwhelmingly impressive prospects will be eliminated, Chief Johnson said, because he’s “not inclined to take risks for what could be a 20- to 25-year career.”

“If you make a mistake (in hiring), you have to live with it for a generation or more.”

The hires will be considered with “an extra eye toward the diversity component” that DPD embraces, Chief Johnson said. He asked for community members to contribute by introducing potential police officers.

The goal is to have 93 working officers by the end of 2020, according to DPD.

Four officers are currently slated to arrive, though uncertainty with the Delaware State Police-run academy’s schedule this September may slow the process. DPD is considering the logistics of conducting its own academy in the interim, according to Chief Johnson.

The chief lamented the number of youthful offenders involved in crime and pledged to continue pushing for ways to connect, pointing to his participation in the “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” initiative. Complementing the Police Athletic League and School Resource Officer programs is a focus for reaching youth, he said.

DPD received $471,189.73 in grant funding and other sources in 2019, including $147,749.35 from a Violent Crimes Fund. There was $80,895.34 received from federal forfeiture case disbursements.

In the past week and a half, Chief Johnson has had meetings to review a Smyrna police model that involves a substance abuse/mental health clinician assisting officers on their calls.

The emphasis is on resolving situations with something other than an arrest, including connecting persons with services instead.

In 2019, DPD maintained and complied with 484 standards mandated by the Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and 105 standards mandated by the Delaware Police Accreditation Commission.

The chief introduced the DPD’s executive and staff members, which was the result of a “lot of movement.” The staff now includes:

• Captain of Operations Randy Robbins.

• Captain of Administration Chris Hermance.

• Division of Professional Standards Capt. Kevin Kober.

• Unit commanders Lts. Aaron Dickinson (investigations), Jordan Miller (patrol), Robert Roswell (internal affairs) and Paul Kuntzi (special enforcement).

The Division of Professional Standards is a new unit that will oversee accreditation, crime analysis, training policy/procedure manual and internal affairs, among other functions.