County leads in use of body-worn cameras with supporters including NAACP
Fusion Center, emergency communication & medical services improvements boost quality of life
The Department of Public Safety is a top priority of County Executive Thomas P. Gordon and hallmark of the administration’s focus on the quality of life for all citizens. Public safety also represents the county’s greatest financial investment -- 65 cents of each county tax dollar.
The Department of Public Safety includes police, 911 service, emergency medical services including paramedics and emergency management. Public safety funds also support our dedicated volunteer fire companies and cover state-managed dog control, billed to each county.
Under Gordon, Director of Public Safety Joseph Bryant Jr. and Police Chief E. M. Setting, law enforcement have made many modernizations, highlighted by the Targeted Analytical Policing System (TAPS) which focuses on incidents reported by citizens that impact the quality of life in each community. These incidents are now a priority for our officers and prevent smaller crimes from escalating. Along with adoption of the newest techniques in handling property crime -- focusing added resources on crimes such as home break-ins and stolen vehicles -- the three-year-old TAPS program is credited with a 16.4 percent overall reduction in crime countywide.
Weekly TAPS meetings use the cutting-edge technology of the new J. William Bell Fusion Center dedicated in 2015 to evaluate target hotspots where resources are sent before quality of life concerns become crime trends. The Fusion Center has a wall of 18 LED screens – called the first of its kind -- that can carry individual live feeds for a new level of information sharing. Emergency Communications Chief Jeffrey Miller says this forum links all responders from police, EMS, fire companies and voluntarily enrolled private surveillance systems.
In another technology advance, police adopted new crime-fighting software that improves communication and collaboration, while allowing officers access to real-time data.
County police were the state’s first large agency to start using body-worn cameras, with support of Attorney General Matt Denn, the NAACP and Delaware Association of Chiefs of Police.
Also new under the Gordon administration is the creation of the first full-time Cold Case Homicide Unit, which led to the arrest of an unsolved murder that occurred over three decades ago. To assist communities impacted by a major crime or other traumatic incidents, the first Community Intervention Team was created, which informs/counsels residents of affected areas.
Fifteen police officers are added under Gordon’s Fiscal 2017 budget just approved by County Council, with partial federal funding, and will provide neighborhood patrols.
Gordon also authorized additional staffing for our emergency communication center, which handles more than 400,000 calls a year. The added staff has reduced 911 call taker response time by 6 percent, with most calls processed within 72 seconds. The county also is first in the state with Smart911, allowing residents to create voluntary safety profiles with medication and other information relayed to emergency personnel if they call 911.
Many people don’t know the county Emergency Medical Services were the state’s first to be nationally accredited, and like the police, earned “gold standard” accreditation and provide paramedics all over the county, including in Wilmington.
The HEROIN ALERT program, begun in Gordon’s first term, takes the prevention and treatment message out to the community, connecting many with lifesaving help.
Gordon provided a $500,000 grant for a public awareness campaign last year with various types of advertising – from bus placards to T-shirts -- and a webpage called The HEROIN TRAP, intended to show even first-time use of the drug can cause addiction or death. This program also helps connect residents with needed services and helps them schedule HEROIN ALERT presentations for their groups and communities. The campaign produced more than 3.3 million advertisements on internet search engine results and the web page continues referrals.
In May, the county launched HERO HELP, a new program with the revolutionary approach of officers screening addicted, eligible adults for addiction treatment rather than arrest. HERO HELP was developed through an unprecedented collaboration of the county, state Department of Health and Social Services and the Office of the Attorney General.
County police also set up Delaware’s first public drop-box for unwanted or expired prescription medicine in 2013 and the Medical Society of Delaware sponsored a second box. Around-the-clock, 365 days a year, the boxes help keep drugs away from children or others who might abuse them, also educating residents not to wash drugs down drains or toilets into our water supply.
County police have expanded their mounted and K-9 units, encouraging positive community contact beyond their law enforcement role. The Mounted Patrol Unit’s huge draft horses and distinctive red carriage appear at venues from parades to county parks, while K-9 teams – noted for their success locating hidden drugs, fleeing suspects and missing persons -- give demonstrations at sites from schools to community fairs. Officers also help educate our youth through many outreach programs including Safety Town and assist with recruiting and other public appearances such as “Casting With Cops” at the grand opening of the fishing pond at Glasgow Park and “Barista for a Day” at a Brew Haha! coffee shop.
Although the Criminal Investigation, Evidence Detection and Information & Analysis units may be well-known, county police also have motorcycle, bicycle and walking patrol officers, as well as Crisis Negotiation and Ordnance Disposal teams, Special Weapons & Tactics Unit, Traffic and Community Services units. Also, the Professional Development Unit works to maintain a well-qualified and diverse police workforce.