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State funds for Wilmington cops - and hope for more - carry caveats

Delaware Public Media

State legislators are giving Wilmington police $1.5 million and 20 weeks to prove they can reduce violent crime with more police patrols. If they can't, some lawmakers want to intervene with outside police forces.

But the leaders who asked for the emergency police funds in the first place say this is a step in the right direction.

On the same day Wilmington saw its 24th shooting death this year, the state's budget-writing Joint Finance Committee voted to allocate $2.1 million from banking crisis settlements funds for more police patrols in Wilmington and Dover.

But Wednesday's plan comes with some conditions for the state's largest city.

"One was that they have to report their deployment," says state Sen. Karen Peterson, a Stanton Democrat who sits on the JFC. "Some of us felt that before we paid time and a half to other police forces [from the state and New Castle County] to cover the streets of Wilmington, that people who were doing administrative or clerical work should be in uniform, out in patrol cars, patrolling."

Plus, Peterson says they want proof the city is implementing the recommendations of the Wilmington Public Safety Strategies Commission. Some lawmakers feel the city has been ignoring that report, issued earlier this year.

Police Chief Bobby Cummings disputed that at the JFC meeting Wednesday, according to Peterson -- but she still says they want hard data to support those claims. That means analysis of high-crime areas and statistics to show that deployment in those areas is driving down crime.


In a statement emailed to Delaware Public Media, Cummings said they "would be willing to sit down with members of the General Assembly to provide insight into the operations of the Wilmington Police Department, and to assure them the funds … will be spent in an effective manner."

Peterson wants that kind of insight before the JFC agrees to offer up any more settlement funding.


She sees their plan as intervention in Wilmington. But Attorney General Matt Denn says he's spent all year asking lawmakers to use the settlement money for issues like this.

"We've expressed, since I took office, that we would like there to be police officers visibly in the high-crime areas, particularly on foot," he says. "And these funds will allow us to provide overtime money to do that for the next 20 weeks or so, but it's not something that we want to see stop when the 20 weeks expires."

Denn calls it "encouraging" that lawmakers have agreed on this plan -- at least as a start.

"I'm hopeful that's the beginning of a trend," he says.

State Chamber of Commerce president Richard Heffron signed Denn's original ask to use what's now $28 million left in settlements for recidivism and drug treatment programs, impoverished schools and affordable housing, as well as policing.

The money is earmarked to offset harm from the financial crisis -- which folks like Heffron maintain includes foreclosures that drove up urban crime.

"We worry about the people who live in those neighborhoods -- the ones who are sort of trapped," he says. "Hopefully, if this can lessen the problem, those people will feel a little bit better about the neighborhood. And the perception of the cities of Wilmington and Dover will change."

And if that doesn't start to happen in the next 20 weeks -- State Sen. Peterson says the legislature may use its power to take control of policing in Wilmington. That could mean sending in state troopers or even the National Guard.

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