What's being done about safety downtown?
UPDATE: Tuesday, March 17 at 10 a.m.
The Council Committee of the Whole meeting March 24, including the Safety Advisory and Transportation committee, has been canceled due to coronavirus precautions.
ORIGINAL REPORT: Friday, March 13 at 10 a.m.
People are afraid to come downtown to shop and eat, owner of La Baguette Bakery Anita Wheeler-Bezy said at city council March 9. “We’re slowly becoming an inner city,” she said, talking about public defecation and drug deals she has seen during the day.
Others, like Hassan Azhar, owner of Zuha Trend on Loockerman Street, spoke about similar concerns. Azhar talked about the many homeless people who stay in the alley near his shop and a lack of police response to apparent drug deals and prostitution.
Councilman Ralph Taylor Jr., chair of the Safety Advisory and Transportation committee, said the next committee meeting will focus on increasing police presence and establishing a substation across from Driftwood Spirits on Bradford Street.
The public meeting will be Tuesday, March 24 at 6 p.m. at city hall, and new Police Chief Thomas Johnson will attend.
At the Jan. 30 town hall, where city council members met with residents and business owners about public safety downtown, Taylor mentioned creating a task force. He is starting to form that team and anyone can join. He will talk more about it at the March 24 meeting
As a retired Dover police officer, Taylor agreed with business owners that the area needs patrolling officers. “When I was a new police officer in Dover. I was assigned to foot patrol, as were all new officers. What foot patrol did is it gave visibility. No one is going to commit a crime right there in front of a police officer.” he said. “But it also worked as a relationship builder because I knew the name of the merchants and they knew my name.”
Taylor said the police department doesn’t have the staff to support foot patrol officers, a problem affecting departments nationwide.
Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman, spokesman for the Dover Police Department, said the staffing shortage in Dover is due to injuries and more officers retiring or moving on.
Getting the agency up to full capacity takes time, he said. For example, six recruits graduated from the police academy, but they won’t be able to join the department until after 16 more weeks of training. More recruits are lined up for the March police academy, but that training lasts six months.
“Even at full capacity, our department is incredibly busy, handling 42,000-45,000 complaints annually in a city with a living population of nearly 40,000 people, and an even higher daytime/working/student population,” Hoffman said in a statement. “We absolutely would like to increase specialized patrols in the city, but funding and manpower is always the biggest issue, even at full strength.”
Right now, Dover police cadets, the civilian employees who wear blue shirts, patrol downtown on foot. Some officers work extra duty assignments on Loockerman Street and the surrounding streets, and they are paid for by grants. Some officers who patrol an apartment and office complex downtown are paid by private funding.
Taylor encouraged anyone to come to the March 24 meeting and made one suggestion for those who speak. “We know the problems, but have solution-based conversations ready to go and together we will all work through this,” he said.