Search for new Dover police chief underway

 

Dover Police Department Chief Paul Bernat, left, and Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen attend a press conference at Dover Police Department in July 2016. With Chief Bernat’s decision to retire, the city is beginning a search for his replacement. (Delaware State News file photo)

DOVER — Will he or she come from inside or outside the agency?

Could Dover’s police chief search locate a prime out-of-state candidate or select one from Delaware?

Breaking with tradition, the capital city’s future top cop won’t automatically come from within the ranks this time.

Per updated city regulations, Dover officials are conducting a nationwide search to replace soon-retired Chief Paul Bernat.

Of course, there’s also the option of choosing to promote a current Dover Police officer.

Former Chief Jim Hosfelt, now a city council member and part of a five-person selection committee, believes there are at least “a couple interested parties within the department.”

Also, Mr. Hosfelt said, “There’s value in having the ability to go outside and look at a possible chief of police who is new to the area and may have fresh new ideas that have never been introduced in the state of Delaware.”

According to Mayor Robin Christiansen, who oversees police department operations, “There are a number of folks within the department who can fill the bill, and I would hope they will apply.”

An acting police chief will be named Tuesday and Chief Bernat’s last day is scheduled for Jan. 17. Chief Bernat is taking a job as a law enforcement liaison with the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.

When announcing the departure in December, Mayor Christiansen focused on a permanent replacement selected by the end of April.

Citing the value of existing familiarity with agency policy and procedures, along with understanding of the local community, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 15 President Master Cpl. David Gist said officers hope for some coworker to take charge.

“We just hope they don’t bring in someone from the outside because that’s bad for all of us,” he said.

“We have a lot of people here who aspire to become the chief of police and have worked toward that, and to have the rug pulled out from under them at this point would probably take a lot of wind out of their sails moving forward.”

Also, Cpl. Gist said, an outside hire drops every current officer eligible for promotion consideration down at least one slot.

If form holds, second-in-charge Deputy Chief Maj. Marvin Mailey, if interested, would become the new chief. His promotion over five senior officers during the transition from Mr. Hosfelt to Chief Bernat in April 2014 cost the city $300,000 due to the grievances that followed.

While Chief Bernat was responsible for selecting a deputy chief, city council feared at the time that then-Mayor Carleton E. Carey had unduly influenced the choice and opened up opportunity for costly civil liability. Mr. Carey, who denied the accusation, resigned as mayor shortly afterward.

While Cpl. Gist described the previous controversy as “probably over-rated,” he didn’t forecast any similar upcoming drama. Mr. Hosfelt said the committee would at least re-examine the past situation to avoid any potential personnel landmines.

“I could be wrong, and stranger things have happened recently at Dover PD, but I anticipate a smooth transition this time,” Cpl. Gist said. “I expect anything and hope for nothing [to occur].”

Cpl. Gist noted that “from the best of my knowledge” Deputy Chief Mailey is the highest ranking African American Dover police department officer in 90 years, and his choice would be a “reflection of the community that, I believe, is over 50 percent African American.”

That’s not to say that the FOP, other than its preference for an in-house choice, is endorsing any specific candidate.

“The FOP is not in the business of picking the chief of police, but just hopes that there’s a good working relationship established with whoever takes over,” he said.

Other current executive staff and unit commander members include:

•Operations Division Commander Capt. David Spicer

•Administration Division Commander Capt. Tim Stump

•Criminal Investigations Unit Commander Lt. Chad Bernat

•Internal Affairs Unit Commander Lt. Kevin Kober

•Special Enforcement Unit Commander Lt. Chris Hermance

•Patrol Unit Commander Lt. Todd Case

None of the officers were available for comment on their potential job candidacy this week.

“We can’t discuss that unfortunately because of the policy change and it being opened to outside applicants,” spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.

While officials are still formulating a hiring plan moving forward, Mayor Christiansen said the position will be advertised through national trade magazines and other venues, and the Delaware Police Chief’s Council will be contacted for assistance.

The city currently pays its police chief $126,796.80 annually ($2,438.40 weekly) and deputy chief $112,715 per year ($2,167.60 weekly).

In the past, the city’s mayor had sole responsibility in choosing a new police chief, and Mr. Christiansen said he will ultimately decide the candidate presented to city council for a vote of approval.

This time, however, the mayor will collaborate with a committee including Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee Chairman Mr. Hosfelt, City Council President Tim Slavin, City Manager Scott Koenig and Human Resources Director Kimberly Hawkins.

“We will work together on this and consider all input,” Mr. Christiansen said.

Clearly, the mayor is attempting to steer clear of any favoritism, perceived or real.

“My concern continues to be that the process will be pristine and transparent, and that no backdoor deals will be arranged,” Mr. Christiansen said.

“We want to show the residents who have entrusted us with this responsibility that ordinances and code will be followed to the letter.

“This process is not going to include any external lobbying to influence preference for any particular person or demographic.”

If the search for a new chief is highly scrutinized, though, the mayor is OK with that. Mr. Christiansen said he’s been surprised by the early interest, even when approached at the grocery store.

“I would hope [citizens] are watching everything we do and taking an active role in voicing their views and concerns,” Mr. Christiansen said. “One of their responsibilities is to watch what’s going on, look over our shoulders in even the most minuscule matters.”

At the end of the process, Mayor Christiansen said “I would hope and expect that the committee will come to a consensus.

“At the end of the day I think we will all have the same person in mind.”

Speaking generally, the mayor hopes to find an officer who “Commandeers the respect of the troops he will lead and be community-oriented and able to interact with all the citizens of Dover.”

Mr. Hosfelt thinks Dover’s opening is an enticing opportunity for a leader, describing the current department as a “great” and “well-established” nationally-accredited agency. An authorized officer-strength of 103 polices a city of approximately 38,000 residents.

“Chief Bernat has done a great job maintaining high standards and the city has excellent officers currently protecting and serving the community,” he said.

Violent crime and the continued heroin epidemic are ongoing concerns for whoever takes charge.

“When comparing Dover to other cities we’re very fortunate, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t get out of hand quickly,” Mr. Hosfelt said.

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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