Wilmington council votes ‘no confidence’ in police chief over lack of officer diversity

Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy (David Karas)

Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy (David Karas)

Nearly five years after being hired as Wilmington police chief, Robert Tracy is facing a crisis of confidence from city leaders.

In a 6-4 vote, members of city council approved a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Tracy and the way he’s led the police in Delaware’s largest city.

“I’m not trying to fire him. I’m not trying to defund the police,” said Council President Trippi Congo, who sponsored the resolution. “I want to give him an opportunity to do the right thing, and I think I have been extremely fair and extremely patient.”

The resolution stems in part from Tracy’s appearance at a Public Safety Committee meeting on Tuesday.

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At that meeting, Tracy told council there were no Black or Hispanic supervisors in the department’s investigative divisions. He said out of 39 detectives in the criminal investigation division, there are nine Black detectives, one Hispanic detective, and three detectives with two or more racial and ethnic backgrounds. All supervisors in the department’s two criminal investigation divisions are white.

“Wilmington is a city of 70% Black and brown people, and you said that you have zero Black or Hispanic captains, lieutenants, and sergeants and all-white supervisors. I just want to make sure I heard that correctly,” questioned Congo on Tuesday.

“Correct,” Tracy replied.

“It was alarming to hear the lack of diversity in WPD, considering the city of Wilmington’s diverse population,” Congo wrote in the resolution. “It was further disturbing to see no substantive action plan shared with Council to address diversity knowing this has been a concern.”

Tracy told the committee the department is working to improve its diversity. He said some Black lieutenants were recently promoted to captains.

“We’re always trying to be fair and make sure that we’re looking for diversity, not only diversity in the ranks and in these units, but also diversity of thought,” Tracy said. He added that increasing diversity in the leadership takes time, because some of those roles require at least three years of service in the department.

“Chief Tracy has been extremely resistant to any ideas to increase diversity and transparency and any ideas as far as police reform,” Congo said. “Our chief needs to be more proactive and just more vocal about a plan, whether it’s a plan to combat crime or a plan to increase diversity and a plan to really improve morale in his police department.”

Following the vote Thursday, Mayor Mike Purzycki, who hired Tracy in 2017, called it “a very sad day for our city.”

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In an emailed statement, he said “Council’s resolution this evening does a terrible disservice to the reputation of an outstanding professional who has served this city so well and who has my unqualified support.”

Purzycki said Tracy has led city police through one of the most difficult times for police departments throughout the country. “I look forward to his continued leadership,” he said.

The mayor’s office also pointed to comments Congo made praising Tracy following last year’s graduation ceremony for the city’s 100th police academy class.

“Hats off to the mayor and Chief Tracy for listening to council and listening to the community in making this 100th class a diverse academy,” Congo said in a video posted by the city-run station WITN in April.

That class of 19 included five Black men and one Black woman, as well as one Hispanic woman.

Wilmington has struggled over the past decade to keep violent crime from escalating.

In 2021, 39 people were killed in Wilmington. That translates to a gun fatality rate of one death for every 1,820 residents, two-thirds higher than Philadelphia’s rate, which also saw record homicides last year.

In 2017, Tracy’s first year on the job, Wilmington saw a then-record 194 people shot, including 32 who died from their wounds. The new chief’s data-driven strategy to send officers to hot spots for violence seemed to pay off in 2018. That year, the number of shooting victims was cut more by 60% to 81, with just 17 deaths.  Since that decline, numbers have climbed again.

In 2019, 119 people were shot and 27 of them died.

In 2020, 169 people were shot and 30 died.

In 2021, 152 people were shot and 39 killed.

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