First joint meeting of group evaluating plan to add cops includes presentation on local gang activity

Members of two Dover City Council committees got their first in-depth look Nov. 15 at what police say is a growing problem with gang violence and crime in the city.

Council’s Legislative Finance and Administration Committee, meeting jointly with the Safety and Transportation Advisory Committee, watched an hour-long presentation explaining the extent of the city’s gang problem and its various manifestations.

The two committees are charged with determining if the cost of adding nine officers to the police force for the purpose of tackling gang-related crime is a worthy expenditure — as laid out in a plan approved by council last month.

The presentation delivered by Det. Sgt. Jason Pires, head of the department’s Drugs, Vice and Organized Crime Unit, was a detailed overview of what the police department currently knows about Dover’s gang landscape and the estimated 100 gang members citywide.

Pires showed pictures of gang-related graffiti found at local schools and in neighborhoods across the city, then explained how police decipher the coded messages, which often communicate what gang is operating in a given area and what other gang or gangs they may be in conflict or solidarity with.

His presentation also contained images of gang members bloodied and maimed during fights and violent initiation rituals.

By far the most graphic part of the presentation was video captured by a surveillance camera of a gang member gunning down a rival in the entryway of a New Street building.

After the presentation, the committee members asked questions related to the severity of the problem.

Councilwoman Beverly Williams, who supports adding more police as soon as possible, said what Pires presented should silence critics on council who say other entities, like the Dover Housing Authority, can step up and mitigate gang activity on their own.

“There is no way civilians can control this,” she said.

When Williams asked Pires what his unit needs to better address the problem, he responded with one word: “people.”

“It comes down to manpower and money,” he said.

The proposal council approved in October calls for the number of officers on the force to be raised from 91 to 100, but only upon review of the financial impact of that increase, which could cost up to $1 million.

Some aren’t convinced that additional police would solve the problem.

Fox Hall resident Clay Hammond, who attended the joint committee meeting and heard Pires’ presentation, said the gang situation in Dover is paltry compared to major cities. If the community, specifically the black community, organizes and makes an effort to divert young people away from the gang lifestyle, it could have an impact, he said.

“We’re talking about first generation [gang members], we have an opportunity to crush them,” he said. “We’re not going to [police] our way out of this… It’s important, it’s not a real big problem.”

Pires disagreed and said the majority of all crime committed in the city can be tied in some way to gang activity, so even if the population of gang members is small compared to the total population of the city, their impact on crime is proportional to what it would be in a bigger city with more people and more gangs.

Williams said Pires’ presentation should be an eye opener.

“I’m concerned about the stable neighborhoods that are starting to see infiltration,” she said. “I think it’s a bigger problem than we like to admit.”

Councilman Reuben Salters has appeared skeptical of a plan to funnel more money to the police department. He said community organizations, like churches, could do more to stop young people from gravitating toward gangs.

“The community is aware of the gang stuff, there’s a lot of community groups that want to do something,” he said. “There are things that can be done without spending $100,000 a minute.”

The committees did not delve into the money side of things at the meeting, but Legislative and Finance Committee chair Councilman Tom Leary said the group will meet several more times in the coming months.

Discussions of costs and funding will take place soon, he said.

“Implicit in our charge is we not drag this out,” he said, adding that he expects some sort of recommendation to be ready for council vote by January or February.

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