DOVER — In a push to subdue a rash of violence within city limits, police went on the offensive this week.
Ten drug-related arrests were made in less than seven hours Tuesday as the Dover Police Department conducted three separate investigations, authorities said.
Arrests followed the next two days as well.
While the enforcement revolved largely around heroin activity, crack cocaine, prescription pills and marijuana also were located in other incidents, police said.
Law enforcement officials have associated the illegal drug trade with recent shootings and homicides, and announced a concerted effort to quell the violence with proactive policing and zero tolerance of all alleged criminal offenses.
On Wednesday, a heroin-related arrest was made, followed by a marijuana and prescription-pill investigation early Thursday morning that police said yielded more drugs. Both cases started with traffic stops.
Authorities said the 12 total arrests came in a response to a recent run of violent activity that included six shootings in 23 days, including three homicides.
In the past 10 months, city police have investigated seven homicides and 17 shooting incidents overall.
On Tuesday, the Street Crimes Unit went into action, determined to clean up the city’s trouble spots, joined by the Drugs, Vice and Organized Crime Unit and Probation and Parole officers.
“We have given these officers a specific mission,” Mayor Robin Christiansen said on Thursday.
“That mission is to get a handle on some of the basic and immediate causes of the unprecedented violence on the streets of Dover. Their presence and success is also a message to those who come here to do criminal acts — don’t.”
The street level arrests made in three days are just a start in a quest to break up the chain of drug transactions from top to bottom, Chief Paul Bernat said.
“The more arrests we make, the more likely we will be able to work our way to the major dealers,” Chief Bernat said. “We will continue our efforts to fight the war on drugs.”
Addicts and dealers
A vicious cycle of continuous illegal use makes the drug trade quite profitable for now, police said.
“We do understand that the addicts have a dependency to an illegal drug and that they need to enter into detox in order to cure their addiction,” Chief Bernat said.
“As long as we have drug addicts, we will have drug dealers. Our police department is doing what we can do by making it harder to be a drug dealer or addict in the City of Dover.”
Also, drug users need to make getting clean a personal choice, police said.
“The state of Delaware has made a strong push to help addicts enter into detox programs and make counselors available throughout the state,” Chief Bernat said. “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
Overall, Chief Bernat concluded, “I am confident that we can make our city safer by continuing our efforts to diminish the drug trade in Dover.”
Police hope that news of recent arrests spread quickly to the lawbreakers involved in the drug trade. Tuesday’s cases were investigated in the Courtside and Capital Green residential development areas.
“A heavy police presence always makes it harder for the criminal element to function, especially when they are learning that arrests are being made,” spokesman Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.
While there’s a large amount of alleged heroin deals being made in the city recently, police said a wide array of drugs are involved.
“Heroin is obviously a major problem right now, but in the last 48 hours we have made arrests for heroin, marijuana, crack cocaine and prescription pills,” Cpl. Hoffman said.
Five people were arrested during a Tuesday afternoon heroin-related investigation in the Capital Green housing development, police said.
“This was a very quick-moving scenario and the timing simply worked out for our officers to move in and take everybody into custody safely,” Cpl. Hoffman said.
The alleged incident occurred in the northeast end of the Water Street alley, one block north from where a shooting took place last Friday afternoon.
The Capital Green case led to what police considered a large seizure of heroin.
“While the weight may not seem like much, 591 bags at over 8 grams is a large heroin seizure,” Cpl. Hoffman said.
While authorities would not disclose how many officers contributed to the investigations and arrests, Cpl. Hoffman said “Multiple officers and Probation and Parole officers (were involved).”
City councilman David Anderson said proactive policing is a must right now.
“If criminals get the idea there is no safe haven here, they will go elsewhere,” he said. “The problem is that the drug trade is turning violent.
“Unless we crack down on it, we have no chance at stemming the violence.”
Former Dover Police Chief James “Hutch” Hutchison, now a city councilman, said he fully supports the aggressive approach that law enforcement is taking. He said he was “extremely pleased” with how Mayor Christiansen and Police Chief Bernat’s officers have taken the offensive.
“I’m tickled to death that the Dover Police Department is going back and being proactive,” he said.
“That’s the most effective kind of policing you can do regarding the problems the city is suffering from.
“You’ve got to be out in the forefront. Being out in the community, on foot patrol and taking an active role (is the way to go.)”
While former police chief and current city councilman Jim Hosfelt applauded the Street Crimes Unit for its immediate impact, he’s concerned that an agency already short of its authorized 102-member force must pull staff from other department units to make it work.
Drug of choice
Heroin’s scourge here was foreseen well before its arrival, Mr. Hosfelt said.
“The large number of heroin arrests should not be a surprise to anyone,” he said.
“For several years the detectives working within the Drugs, Vice and Organized Crime Unit have predicted that heroin will one day overtake cocaine/crack as the drug of choice in this area. Unfortunately, as a community we are starting to see their prediction come true.”
Staying with an often-repeated theme, Mr. Hosfelt said community residents must contribute to protecting their city by calling with information “that will not only solve crimes, but prevent them as well.”
Councilman Brian Lewis — a former Washington, D.C., police officer well aware of challenges involved with ridding a city of ongoing crime — said, “I have confidence in our police to continue their efforts to free our community of the drug activity and other related crimes.”
Mr. Lewis called on citizens, community groups and police to develop partnerships focused on addressing crime issues.
“Let us not forget this is our community and we all must play a part in making it safe and livable,” he said.
Newly elected councilmen Sam Neill gave the Street Crimes Unit a positive review, saying, “The Dover police and law enforcement officials have done their job.
“Preventing young people entrapping themselves in the slavery that is illegal drugs is society’s job.”
Councilman Scott Cole said, “When it comes to policing and drugs I support law enforcement as they know the details and the particulars of when incidences are or will occur.”
Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. pointed to the apparently unsettled living conditions of some recent arrestees and cited homelessness as the “common denominator.”
“We the people of the state of Delaware must join forces to effectively address homelessness and depression,” he said.
“If I had the privilege to address or ask these 10 arrestees what happened in their lives that lead them to this point and they were completely honest with me and themselves, I know that we could learn from them and develop an effective strategy for helping our youth of today and tomorrow.”