Dover Police Chief announces new policy changes, asks to be held accountable
DOVER, Del. – The Dover Police Department announced a series of actions and initiatives to increase the accountability of its police officers on Thursday. They say the overall goal is to gain trust in the community.
“Check me. Come back in a year,” says Dover Police Chief Tom Johnson. “What has Johnson got done? I wish I could make this go faster so I can prove what I’m saying cause I recognize that conversation can be very cheap if it’s not backed up and followed through.”
Dover’s Police Chief has no doubt that the changes announced Thursday will move the department in a positive direction. “My message to my officers has been and will continue to be that de-escalation is the primary strategy,” says Johnson.
The chief says one focus is improving and clarifying policies, relating to use of force. “It even begins with the mere presence of a police officer on the scene and understanding that is actually a projection of force.”
The newly created Office of Professional Standards will help with reviewing use of force cases. In addition, there’s now an even more clear policy to make sure officers hold each other accountable. “If there is a gross violation of civil liberties if someone is having excessive force used against them a member of my police department has the duty to intervene,” says Johnson.
That’s not all. The department is also in the process of forming a Chief’s Advisory Committee. “This will give nine additional citizen stakeholders of the greater Dover community the opportunity to have the Chief’s war on a regular basis,” says Johnson.
One Dover councilman and former city police officer says it’s an innovative way to make sure everyone in the community is represented. “We need people who understand diversity of lifestyle because if you don’t have a seat at the table, then your lifestyle is on the menu,” says Ralph Taylor who represents Dover’s 2nd District.
The chief says he knows these changes won’t happen overnight but local community leaders believe this is a sign that the department is listening to concerns. “I think once they filtrate down into the police department that we’re going to see a lot of change,” says Anne Smith, the president of the Central Delaware NAACP Branch.
The chief acknowledged there a few things that still need to be addressed. First, he says there’s not enough diversity on the city’s police force including an under representation of black officers. Second, he says the department does not have body cameras but they are working on ways to fund that addition possibly through grants.
The department has also been working on something known as the Personnel Early Warning System which is a piece of technology that would help with monitoring officer conduct and is expected to be in place by August.