Let us pray that we can reach our youth B4 they join a gang.

 

Excerpts from the Article:

There was no way that Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson could have predicted all the challenges that would get in his department’s way when he began his tenure Feb. 14, 2020.

The hurdles began in early March of last year, when COVID-19 made its arrival in Delaware. It was joined by civil unrest in June following the death of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis. Then, a rare tornado twisted through the city Aug. 4, leaving devastating damage in its wake.

Additionally, there was the record number of homicides — nine — that took place around Delaware’s capital city in 2020. Those nine deaths broke a previous record of seven, set in 2015.

“As you are aware, I began my tenure on Feb. 14 in a year that produced so many challenges for the city and our nation,” Chief Johnson said to Dover City Council, while presenting the police department’s annual report last week.

“During that time, I can report that the Dover Police Department took very good care of its business — and began a transformative journey — in conditions not previously encountered in modern public safety service.

“It is my judgment that the hard work of all the Dover police employees has put us on a path to an improved condition of public safety and to serve as a leading example of what a 21st-century policing agency looks like.”

Chief Johnson said the department’s data from 2020 appears to be skewed because, during the pandemic, most people were relegated to their homes, which led to a mostly downward trend in crime.

“Calls for service and all the crime events (were down),” he said. “Unfortunately, the only one that did spike were the violent crimes.”

Chief Johnson said that with only minor exceptions, the majority of the murders in Dover last year could be traced to a 2019 surge in gang activity, illicit drug trade and the guns that are often wielded by gang members.

“Last year, during the (Dover PD) annual report, which got delayed a little bit until the summertime, I used the adjective ‘alarming’ when it came to the crime issues of 2019 and that they were persistent into 2020,” the chief said. “Unfortunately, we did end up setting a record for homicides in the city of Dover.

“We believe it is time to continue to discover that gang activity continuing from 2019 into 2020 was the root cause for the majority of issues that we were engaging.”

In response to the gang activity, with support from local and state officials, a multi-agency task force — dubbed “Operation Rise-N-Shyne” — was deployed last year to identify and arrest the key individuals controlling the gangs. By year’s end, more than 50 suspects were in custody and 28 firearms had been confiscated.

During Chief Johnson’s presentation to council last week, Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. asked him the typical age at which individuals become involved with gangs. The councilman’s eyes grew wide with shock when the police chief told him that many of the members of Dover’s gangs join around the fourth grade, while still in elementary school.

“Unfortunately, the age range is actually younger than any of us would probably be happy to hear,” Chief Johnson said. “The early stages of this is fourth grade, fifth grade. The way that this gang culture has been pushing down into the elementary-school level right before they head off to middle school … I didn’t believe it the first time I saw the photographs and I saw the information that backed it up, and that’s where we’re looking.”

Dover PD is preparing to unveil a plan to address the conditions that lead to gang involvement, recognizing the need to follow up the enforcement effort with prevention programs.

Chief Johnson said that as the department inches closer to its authorized strength of 106 officers, there will be a sharp increase in community policing and crime-prevention efforts, using a combination of historically successful activities and innovative ideas borne out of community engagement.

“Our goals include an increase in outreach to our youth, efforts to provide resources to at-risk individuals of all ages and a continuation of the appropriate enforcement activities that work in concert to effectively reduce crime,” the chief said. “Dover is truly strong, and its power is found in the sum of its parts.

“There are several other initiatives in development to support a safer community. There is no doubt that those efforts will require community collaboration to be successful. We are committed to harnessing the power of our residents and our institutions. The goal going forward will always be zero homicides in a city your family can safely live, work and thrive.”

Chelle Paul, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee for the NAACP Delaware State Conference of Branches, said she met with Chief Johnson and other officers Monday and was pleased with what she heard.

“I met with Chief Johnson and members of his team,” Ms. Paul said. “We talked about the gang violence and specific incidents that have occurred in the city. We talked about (a possible police) mobile substation and its value to the community but, most of all, the gang violence and effect it has on our youth.

“When I left the meeting, I was not only positive, but I actually had a true vision of the positive change that this city can achieve if we all continue to stay the course and work together. That meeting allowed me to reach deep to know that we have got to all get in sync on the same page and forget the messenger but receive the message.”

She added, “The problem of gangs is definitely one of a different (dynamic), and we have to get in front of it. It starts with the youth. So let’s think of some creative ways to get the kids involved and signed up to utilize the programs. I must say when I left (the meeting), I was definitely smiling inside.”

Looking back to 2020, Chief Johnson was pleased that the Dover Police Department was able to work its way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to staffing and safety concerns, the department was forced to limit most proactive policing measures to prevent predictable exposures and maintain staffing levels for major casework and emergency service for the city. “Essentially, the Dover police team took the challenges delivered by the pandemic response and worked collectively to convert them into opportunities to evolve and adapt in order to continue to provide crucial services to the community,” Chief Johnson said.

Chief Johnson said that since many big events were canceled due to the pandemic, such as the Firefly Music Festival and the NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway — run as a doubleheader without fans last August — the crime data obviously would not match up well against 2019 statistics.

Then, there were the cancellations of the Dover Days Festival, the Fourth of July celebration and several other Dover traditional events that had an impact, as well.

For example, there were 52 robberies in Dover in 2019 and just 27 last year. However, that could be because most people stayed home during the pandemic.

Assaults were also down from 1,498 in 2019 to 1,258 last year. Burglaries also decreased, from 90 to 65.

“The Dover Police Department would also like to thank the community for their support during this critical time. A special thanks to those who donated protective gear and sanitization supplies when they were scarce in the initial months of the pandemic and little was known about the virus,” the chief added.

“At the time of this report, there is a better understanding of the illness, and vaccination efforts are moving into high gear. Lastly, as an organization dedicated to public service and life safety, we pause to pay respects to those who fell victim to COVID-19 and the families they left behind.”

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