With violence on rise, Dover PD re-activates Street Crimes Unit

DOVER — If violence continues like this, an innocent bystander very well could get hit in the crossfire.

That’s the concern of Dover Police Chief Paul Bernat.

So on Monday, the Dover Police Department re-activated its Street Crimes Unit to address ongoing firearm- and drug-related criminal mayhem that endangers everyone in the vicinity.

Dover has experienced four homicides in 2015, including three in a recent 18-day span. Since August 2014, eight shooting investigations are ongoing, with a suspect sought in a ninth.
The four-officer unit will take a hard stance on all infractions, including open containers, loud music and littering, among others. Loitering enforcement began with one warning, and then a citation if not heeded.

“This is a hand-selected unit of very proactive officers,” said Chief Bernat, who added that last Friday’s shooting at the Capital Green development was the final push for the unit’s re-emergence.

“These guys are self-motivated.”

A Probation and Parole officer will join them, and Dover Police also plans to clear out its active arrest warrants file and nab fugitives with an obligation to appear in court. Two other officers will be available through a Violent Crime Unit grant, authorities said.

In announcing the unit’s revival, police noted that a “zero-tolerance” approach would be taken.

“We’re well aware of Constitutional rights and we will abide with that, but that’s where we draw the line,” Chief Bernat said.

The strategy worked last year when the unit was launched in response to a bevy of shootings that began in the late summer and fall. By the campaign’s conclusion in December, the violent acts were curbed significantly.

“Word got out among the criminals that police had a unit that was taking a very aggressive approach to enforcement, and they became aware that nothing would be overlooked,” Chief Bernat said.

“The unit was a success because we had a major decline in the number of shootings and murders.”

The rash of shootings and homicides plaguing the city are not restricted to the darkness of night with few others around, Chief Bernat said.

The chief said drug dealers are frequently robbing and shooting each other, creating some close calls for nearby folks with no connection to a deal gone bad.

Also, Chief Bernat said, a quick police response time also puts officers in danger as the shooting occurs as they are arriving.

The daytime incidents come when more people are outside and possibly close to dangerous and illegal transactions, he said.

From April 26 to May 15, three shootings occurred in the light of day — two in the afternoon, one in the morning.

On Monday morning, Dover Police decided to re-form the unit to meet the criminal element involved in what Special Enforcement Unit head Lt. Jason Pires described on Friday as an “unprecedented” violent crime outbreak for the city.

At the time, Lt. Pires was standing near the scene of a Capital Green shooting, the city’s fifth violent firearms-related incident in 20 days. The stretch included three homicides, two which are currently unsolved. A suspect is also at large after a Jan. 25 homicide, police said.

Police said the unit would continue working “for the foreseeable future.”

Officers were drawn from community policing, tactical and motorcycle units, Chief Bernat said.

Patrol units also will be called upon to aid the effort with proactive policing in the downtown and hotel/motel areas, Chief Bernat said.

Mayor Robin Christiansen, who oversees the police department, applauded the move.

“To keep police work proactive and at its best requires re-doing the strategy at times,” Mayor Christiansen.

The mayor has dubbed the unit “The Flying Squad” after a successful street level unit in Philadelphia got significant results.

“Not that our people already on the streets aren’t performing well, but (the unit) is going to focus on folks doing bad things and making the rest of the citizens uneasy,” Mayor Christiansen said.

“I want the people to be comfortable where they live, comfortable at their job, and comfortable knowing their kids are safe,” Mayor Christiansen said. “Ensuring public safety is job No. 1.”

Dover Police currently has 89 active officers, with one set to retire in June. Five recruits entered the police academy on March 9 and are months from being ready for patrol shifts on their own.

Chief Bernat asked that the community contact the police department with any tips. Information can be called in to 736-7111, and callers may remain anonymous. Also, tips can be submitted to Delaware Crime Stoppers at (800) TIP-3333 or at www.tipsubmit.com., or through the My PD mobile app.

Loaded gun, heroin found

DOVER — A Sunday afternoon stop in the area of Bay Road and South Little Creek Road brought the discovery of a loaded 9mm handgun and 42 bags of heroin, Dover Police said in a news release.

According to police, the stop was made at 3:39 p.m.

Mykal Dempster, 26, was charged with carrying a concealed deadly weapon (firearm), possession of firearm by person prohibited, possession of ammunition by person prohibited, possession of firearm while possessing drugs and possession of marijuana. He was committed to James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna in default of $46,000 secured bond.

Mark Tolson, 22, was charged with possession with intent to deliver heroin and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was held at JTVCC on $20,500 secured bond.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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