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Wilmington, DE

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 1:02am   |   Updated Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 11:52am

VIDEO: State panel evaluating Wilmington police hears from county, state law enforcement

By: Tom Lehman

A state panel tasked with making recommendations on how to improve the deployment of resources the Wilmington Police Department heard from county and state law enforcement officials on Tuesday about strategies their agencies have used to fight crime.

Members of the Public Safety Strategies Commission heard from Col. Nate McQueen, superintendent of the Delaware State Police, and Col. Elmer Setting, chief of the New Castle County Police Department, about recent community-based and analytic approaches to law enforcement.

Setting talked about successes using the Targeted Analytical Policing System, a statistics-based strategy aided by technology that helps department leadership choose how to deploy officers. The agency credits the program with helping to cut down on overall crime by 16 percent.

"If you don't keep up with technology for just a few years, you're behind the eight ball tremendously," he said.

Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings said his department has replicated the county's TAPS program and holds regular meetings.

However, due to the department's current staffing levels, the agency reassigned nearly all of its officers assigned to community policing efforts to take part in the recent deployment strategy called "Operation Disrupt."

Cummings said the move was temporary but the effects of the new deployment strategy had been profound since it was implemented.

"There's not been many shootings, robberies have gone down, burglaries have gone down, thefts have gone down," he said.

Nevertheless, some residents like Tom Baker, head of the Triangle Neighborhood Association, admitted to the panel they had become weary of the cuts to community policing.

"We used to know who the officer was. His name was in his newsletter," Baker said.

The state has retained the Police Foundation and Vigilant Resources International, a pair of consulting firms from Washington D.C. and New York City respectively, to evaluate and research the department, even sitting in on command meetings held with police brass.

"We have free run of the building," said James McMahon, a former superintendent of the New York State Police Department and consultant with Vigilant.

Delaware Homeland Security Secretary Lew Schiliro said the panel will look at issues like the size of the Wilmington Police Department and whether its authorized strength of 320 officers--30 less than the county's threshold--is large enough to meet the demands for service and other requirements.

"The question is, 'Are we deploying enough officers to do that?" he said. "I think that's fundamental. Are we giving them the right tools? We have a lot of issues yet to get to."

The department is currently below its authorized strength by a gap of 35 officers according to recent claims made by the department in a request for $1.2 million in additional overtime funds used to fill coverage gaps while a police academy class is admitted to the agency.

Setting noted that a fully equipped officer with benefits and pay carries a price tag of roughly $110,000 and hiring nine officers would cost nearly $1 million. He said hiring more uniformed personnel is a highly expensive solution and one that probably can't be sustained in most places.

"We have to be better than what we have," he said.

Cummings indicated similar sentiments after the meeting, noting that if one of the commission's recommendations is to expand the department, it will require money that won't likely be found inside the city's budget.

"That's funding that the police department doesn't have and will have to come from some other source," he said.

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You can contact Tom Lehman at tlehman@wdel.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.