DOVER — Some cases have taken months to solve, and others just a few days.
Add it all up, and Dover police have made arrests in at least 14 shooting cases out of 23 since June 3, some with multiple suspects involved. At least 17 persons were arrested overall.
Three of the apprehensions came in connection with homicides on June 1, June 9 and July 6.
In a city plagued by a rash of shootings this summer, some investigations have taken suspects off the streets. However, police said some cases aren’t resolved as quickly as they hope.
According to DPD Detective Ryan Schmid, the path to an arrest often has immediate obstacles. He estimated that approximately 8 in 10 victims are uncooperative with police as an investigation begins.
“A lot of our shootings are drug- and gang-related, and individuals that live that certain lifestyle have their street code or set of rules they live by,” he said.
“And most people I talk to will say, ‘Hey, listen, no disrespect to you, but I’m just not going to cooperate with this investigation,’ and it’s just the way they choose to live, unfortunately.”
In one case with multiple people injured, plus a homicide victim, “Several people were out there, including everybody who was shot, and all of them said, ‘I don’t know anything. I haven’t heard anything,’” Detective Schmid said.
“Not one of those victims that are still alive have reached out to me or asked for a case status, asked if I’ve heard anything about what’s going on,” he said.
And yet, several cases have been settled. Detective Schmid said the department’s Criminal Investigations Unit coordinates with the Drugs, Vice & Organized Crime Unit to glean any source of information that might be out there.
“That unit has a very, very wide skill-set. They know a lot of people, so the key to the success we’ve had recently is due to us working collaboratively with them,” he said.
“A lot of our shootings are drug- and gang-related, so that’s their forte. We can go to them and say, ‘This person who was shot, do you know if he had any problems with someone? Anyone he or she may have had a beef with?’
“They help us clear cases that takes that guy off the street, which helps them, so for us, it helps the whole department out.”
When a shooting is cleared, Detective Schmid said, “The victims I work with are very appreciative. ... I think the silent majority of the community knows the work we do and does support us.
“However, I think, unfortunately, certain things are in the spotlight of the news, and that’s the buzz for the week or day. The (cleared cases) do get overlooked, but I do think the silent majority does see the work we’re doing and does appreciate it.”
Each shooting, however, can create a stigma and negative perception of the city.
“I have friends and family, and they will tell me, ‘Hey, it’s scary. Everybody has a gun,” the detective said. “It’s almost like you could get a gun a day, if you tried.”
Citizens who do step forward can make a huge impact, as well. On June 1, residents in the area of Mayfair Park “banded together and called police,” after hearing shots, Detective Schmid said.
Arriving police found a dead man inside a vehicle. Afterward, several residents pointed out the direction the suspects fled, he said.
With that lead, officers established a secure perimeter in the area, assisted by the Delaware State Police Aviation Unit.
Officers responded to the shots-fired report at approximately 6:54 p.m., and two gun-wielding suspects were arrested by 8:05, police said.
While Detective Schmid described that sequence as “a community success story,” he noted that “unfortunately, a lot of shootings don’t happen in nice neighborhoods like that.
“They happen in downtown Dover, lower-income areas, and the individuals that are involved are part of drug and gang activity.”
Another key component to addressing shootings is lessening the number of firearms circulating in the area. In 2021, as of Wednesday, Dover police officers had seized 43 guns within city limits and had participated in 79 gun seizures outside the city (partnering with other agencies), spokesman Sgt. Mark Hoffman said.
“While you cannot determine how many of those would have been used in a violent crime, it would be more than fair to say that a number of incidents have been prevented as a result of the work our officers are doing to take these weapons off the streets,” he said.
There’s no predictability to when a shooting may occur, Sgt. Hoffman added.
“We have seen shootings occur at all hours of the day,” he said. “Generally speaking, the majority seem to occur during the hours of darkness.”
No matter the timing, dire consequences can clearly result from carrying a gun. In an attempt to prevent those tragedies, Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson Jr. described officers as operating in a “guardian” role that “is the common purpose that binds all law enforcement officers together.”
“They represent the public safety shield that protects the potential victims of violent crime.”
Additionally, Chief Johnson said, “Cops know that the inappropriate use of firearms leads to tragic outcomes for both the intended and unintended targets of gunfire.
“Bullets flying can never be considered a fact of life in Dover or anywhere else. Uniform officers and major-case detectives pour their heart and soul into reducing that threat to the community. Without hesitation, they will disrupt their personal lives to close a case or apprehend a violent fugitive,” the chief said.
He added that he’s happy with the department’s work in the capital city.
“I am so very proud of the skill and determination displayed by the entire organization when it comes to protecting our neighborhoods. Lives literally depend on it, and the Dover community should know that our team looks at it through that very lens. With the continued help of the community, we can accomplish great things and literally save lives.”
Even so, working shooting cases can be exhausting and take a mental toll, according to Detective Schmid. He said he’s got “a really good support system at home personally, and I have a good core group of friends that I can rely on, as well, to pick me up.”
The detective said he was up 36 hours straight to investigate one recent case and that the law enforcement lifestyle, at times, is “definitely rough.”
“I hate to say you get used to it, but you suck it up and make it work because you know that solving those crimes for a family that’s grieving in a case like that, it’s worth it (at) the end.”