Wilmington’s Police Chief met with City Council to discuss public safety improvements.
Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings and City Council addressed the public on how recommendations to improve public safety in the city are being implemented.
Thursday night’s address was the third quarterly public safety accountability meeting to review the city’s public safety plans and its adherence to the 111 recommendations put in place by the Department of Justice’s Violence Reduction Network to reduce violence in Wilmington.
“From the onset I think we’ve been doing a good job, but now we’re able to bring more to light so they can see these things are being accomplished,” Cummings said.
In June, Cummings presented a comprehensive strategic public safety plan initiating the recommendations.
In the past the Council has said they don’t believe Mayor Dennis Williams, D-Wilmington, and the police department have been transparent about their plans and improvements, or been held accountable.
On Thursday, City Council President and mayoral candidate Theo Gregory said he believes strides have been made since February’s meeting.
“I believe the accountability hearings are doing some good, because we’re keeping it in front of the public,” he said. “It’s not management and behind closed doors. It’s a public issue and it’s important it’s managed publicly.”
Cummings and the city agree that one of the top issues needed to be addressed is the police department’s overtime expenditures, which the crime commission recommended it analyze.
The department’s overtime spending stands at 111 percent of its budget, which means that overtime spending is about $221,000 over budget with two months remaining in the fiscal year.
During the meeting Gregory said he would like to see the creation of a data document reporting on who uses overtime and why. Cummings said it would involve labor intensive work that would require pulling antiquated documents, and they need an automated system to pull the information.
Another significant aspect of the recommendation includes community policing—this year the department hired former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who has a reputation for being a leader in community policing.
The crime commission recommended the department increase designation and assignment of community policing officers into hot spots and other high crime areas. Since that time, the department made the decision to cut its community policing unit in order to require all officers to be trained in community policing.
Cummings said officers in each sector will be required to visit various establishments in their assigned sector to generate high visibility. Officers will perform nightly patrols in hot spots, and go out in teams to make positive contacts in the community.
“We need all the officers to have the ability to treat everybody fairly,” Cummings said.
“No matter what officer you run into you should be able to get a community policing sense of trust, know you will get your complaints addressed and know the officers you run into are there to help you. I don’t want it to be consolidated to just a unit.”
Several of the council members, however, believe having a designated unit is more beneficial.
“I think we need to see them go back into the community, and walking and having a designated group for community policing,” said Councilman Michael Brown, who also serves as public safety chair.
Another area of concern for some council members is that a survey tallying citizen satisfaction has not been developed yet.
The crime commission recommended the department implement the Police-Citizen Satisfaction Survey of the National Police Research Platform, University of Illinois at Chicago, which measures citizen satisfaction with police performance.
In October the police department said it would be in place by November. As of February, the plan was still in progress—which frustrated several council members.
Cummings said the slow process has been an issue funding the $25,000 project.
“We have to apply for grants and applying for grants are competitive and we don’t have that kind of money on hand we can just pay for this,” he said. “This is a process we have to go through for procurement and that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Gregory said he disagrees.
“$25,000, overtime 111 percent—I don’t agree with that,” he said. “$25,000 is very little money given the value it would bring to the city of Wilmington. It’s important every department scour their budgets and find $25,000 to get this done.”
Several of the recommendations discussed on Thursday night are well underway, however. Cummings said he is particularly proud of the Real-Time Crime Center, which will be online May 15th. The center will provide comprehensive analysis and dissemination of information for the public.
In January City Council approved an Administration Ordinance providing a three-year contract for software to be used in the RTCC. In April City Council approved an administration-requested resolution which formally accepted a $750,000 appropriation from the Delaware General Assembly’s fiscal year 2016 Bond and Capital Improvements Act for the center.
“It puts us in the 21st century, and it helps us navigate through a lot of stuff that we normally wouldn’t be able to do right away,” Brown said.
During the meeting Cummings also addressed several other recommendations that have been enacted since the previous meeting.
He said the police department has received a $60,000 grant to add fulltime employee dedicated to victim services and have hired a crime analyst who will begin work in June. Cummings also offered council members documents of specific metrics for success in each patrol sector broken down by crime.
“I feel as though our police department has been transparent, that we are held accountable for what we do,” he said. “It’s about being open to the process so people understand and we’re able to get a message out sometimes we’re not able to get out there.”
Brown said he believes improvements have been made and has faith in the police department.
“There’s a lot this department has burdening on their shoulders, and we have to stay focused and stay supportive of the Wilmington Police Department,” he said.
“As long as we can continue to give them the resources we possibly can for them to do the job I believe they can help move this city forward in a safe and secure manner.”