Bobby Cummings seems like a great guy, quick with a smile, easy to talk with, a full-grown Boy Scout. Honest, courteous, kind, the whole package.
And that’s why I feel so bad for him. He just accepted the nearly impossible task of turning around the most dangerous city in America – Wilmington, Delaware. Recently it passed Camden and every other city in the country in per capita murders, shooting and violent crimes.
It’s not that I don’t think Cummings can make a difference. He can, if the City of Wilmington will let him.
I didn’t realize how much Cummings is handicapped by bureaucratic idiocy until I sat down with him for a TV interview on MeTV, Channel 2. Within the first three minutes of the interview I was stunned.
I asked an obvious question, “Do you need more police officers?” And I got the obvious answer, “Yes.” Like any police chief in the history of police chiefs would say no.
“How many do you need?”
It was the answer to that question was the stunner. Cummings said, “If I could get 50 more police officers, I could start a homicide unit.”
“Wait, what?” I interrupted Cummings, who dropped the bombshell as calmly as someone saying they wish they had enough cash for another hot dog at the Phillies game.
“You don’t have a homicide unit?” I asked.
“No, sir,” was the quick response without even a hint of embarrassment.
I’m no detective, but I think I just solved the case of why Wilmington has had such an increase in crime over the past few years – you can quite literally get away with murder.
Cumming was quick to point out that a homicide unit doesn’t prevent murders. True. But when a killer knows there is good chance his crime won’t be solved, there is little reason to think twice before pulling the trigger.
The City of Wilmington is only authorized to have 320 police officers. Any increase in size would have to be approved by the mayor and City Council. There is no sign that is going to happen anytime soon.
When Cummings was sworn in on May 30th, the department was 16 short of the 320. He is filling those positions now and wants everyone out on the streets, including the brass, including himself. Cummings believes that a police presence in the neighborhoods will help restore trust and cooperation.
Wilmington had an embarrassing incident earlier this year when the names of people cooperating with police were leaked on Instagram. Tips to the Wilmington police are supposed to remain anonymous. It is believed someone inside the department leaked the names.
For that reason, the new chief has been handing out his business card asking residents to call him directly if they have information.
The personal effort is impressive, but a little desperate. Cummings, a 29-year veteran of the force wants to make the city safer, but knows he has huge obstacles to overcome within his department and within city government.
That is not so say that a larger police force is always the answer. When Camden was the perennial leader in national crime, it had a police force of 460 police officers to service just a slightly larger population that Wilmington. The force was finally dissolved and a Camden County police department now patrols the city. So far, the move has been effective.
At its current staffing, the Wilmington force has a police officer for every 235 people in the city. That is about the same as Philadelphia that has an officer for every 231 people. New York has an officer for every 239 people in the city. So, per capita, Wilmington is on par with other cities and far ahead of some. Chief Cummings wants a police force of 370 officers for a population of just over 71,000. Bakersfield, California, for instance, has 349 officers to protect and serve a population of 330,000.
If Chief Cummings gets his wish, Wilmington will have a police officer for every 192 citizens. Of the nation’s top twenty cities, only Washington, D.C., would have a larger per capita force, with an officer for every 153 citizens. However, Atlantic City, NJ, with a population of fewer than 40,000 has 330 officers or an officer for every 119 people, making it one of the biggest per capita police departments in the country.
Of course, Washington swells with politicians and visiting dignitaries, AC swells with tourists. Wilmington just swells with crime.
Shootings are down so far this year in Wilmington by 45 percent, but murders are up by 100 percent. There were six in the city at this time last year. This year there are 12. The latest murder was Sunday night when 43-year-old Crystal Brown was hit by a stray bullet as she was carrying groceries out of a convenience store.
Not only do homicide detectives in Wilmington not have any leads, they don’t have any homicide detectives.
The answer to the problem seems to be an increase in the force somewhere between the chief’s request and the city mandate. Maybe the county and state need to get more involved and send officers and detectives, but something needs to be done and fast. As the summer heat intensifies, so does the violence.
Before the Delaware Legislature went on break, it bailed out the state’s three casinos to the tune of 10 million dollars a year over three years. That would have been more that enough money to give Chief Cummings his extra officers with some money left over for the schools. Unfortunately the kids and the crime-ridden neighborhoods of Wilmington can’t afford powerful lobbyists.
I always thought the No. job of all elected public officials from the President on down to city council was and is to keep the citizens safe.
So now that I have finished my interview with the new Wilmington Police Chief, let me pose a question those in Delaware state, New Castle County and Wilmington city government, “How many residents in Wilmington have to die before you staff a homicide unit? Or at the very least, do something?”
You can watch Larry Mendte's interview with Wilmington's Police Chief on The Delaware Way Saturday Night at 7:00 on MeTV Channel 2 and then again at 9 AM on Sunday