Public Safety and Our Community
It is to Mayor Purzycki’s great credit that he hired a police chief with long experience working in the leadership of police departments that have achieved measurable results in reducing violent crime. Chief Tracy has implemented common-sense strategies based on research into, and experience with, what has worked elsewhere:
a district-based strategy in which the same officers regularly patrol a given neighborhood and build relationships with the community;
a data-driven strategy that relies on continuously updated information about where crime is happening and where it is persistent;
an accountability-based strategy that measures the City’s progress toward improved public safety and leads to course corrections where appropriate;
a strategy for reducing gang violence centered around giving young people meaningful, positive alternatives to both violence and incarceration.
Given the important progress that has been made in reducing crime, and particularly violent crime, Chief Tracy deserves Council’s support and partnership. That includes Council’s support and partnership in helping Chief Tracy and the department overcome an inherited challenge and a serious impediment to improved public safety that predates Chief Tracy’s tenure and is common to many cities and police departments across the country: a level of alienation and distrust between the police department and the majority-minority members of our community.
The new City Council that is sworn in next year should charge the Public Safety Committee with holding formal committee hearings, as well as community hearings, to provide a full airing and accounting of the historic and ongoing sources of that alienation and distrust and to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the various strategies that advocates are proposing and that communities across the country are pursuing.
As someone who served a combat tour in an ambiguous operating environment in Fallujah, Iraq, no one is more sympathetic than me with the split-second decisions that police officers have to make when their lives or the lives of citizens they are sworn to protect are placed in immediate danger. At the same time, civilian accountability is a cardinal principle of our military and must be a cardinal principle of our police department. Getting civilian accountability right in Wilmington is going to have to involve collaboration with our Wilmington delegation and other state lawmakers in Dover, given the obstacles to accountability posed by existing state law. Experience working closely and productively with these lawmakers is going to be critical.
Part of the Public Safety Committee’s charge should be reviewing the WPD’s recruitment practices and recommending policy changes for increasing recruitment from the community. An additional part of the Public Safety Committee’s charge, given the central role that the state and the federal government play in financing most of the social-service infrastructure in the City of Wilmington, should be working with the Administration, as well as with the Governor’s Office, Members of the General Assembly and the federal delegation to craft a shared vision for relieving the WPD of what too often has become effectively a lead responsibility for addressing social issues like substance abuse, untreated mental health conditions, joblessness and homelessness. Again, experience working with state lawmakers and our federal delegation is going to be key.
As a first step, out of the gate, if the existing Council has not done so by then, the new City Council should do what is necessary to fulfill in a timely manner the Mayor’s pledge to finance and deploy body cameras in Wilmington.