Dover police chief gets OK to conduct spring academy

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DOVER — The city’s police chief, Thomas Johnson, received the thumbs up from City Council to proceed with another Dover Municipal Police Academy this spring during its virtual meeting Monday.

Meanwhile, newly hired Dover City Manager Randy Robertson got to add his input to a citywide issue for the first time during a council meeting.

After receiving support from the City Manager’s Office and from Lori Peddicord, controller/treasurer from the city’s Finance Department, council members voted unanimously to support another semester of the academy, slated to begin April 11.

“As it sits right now, if we stay on trajectory and I don’t have any appreciable attrition over the course of the next six months, there really are no immediate plans to have another academy session in FY22,” Chief Johnson said.

“If we did need to send one or two people to training, I have options available at other locations. The hope is that by April or May, we will start to emerge from this (COVID-19 pandemic), and we won’t have quite the number of restrictions at the other academies we’re dealing with right now.”

The impetus for the Dover Police Department to reintroduce its police training academy in fall 2020 was due to the pandemic, which reduced enrollment at other academies and left the city with around 14 recruits in need of training.

“I am not asking council’s permission to conduct any academy training beyond the session before you in April,” the chief said during Monday’s meeting. “There would need to be a complete reevaluation of the value of that, based on what I project our needs would be.

“I’m only asking to close the loop on the current cycle of two sessions to get us through our crisis period and get us up to our authorized strength.”

The biggest thing Chief Johnson needed to accomplish before getting the go-ahead to proceed with another academy was to bring the monetary figures from the fall academy to the city to make sure it was financially viable for this spring.

“Chief Johnson and myself, (Assistant City Manager) Matt Harline and the new City Manager Randy Robertson had a meeting, and we discussed his budget, and we believe he is on track to recover the majority of all of the expenses needed for the spring of 2021 session,” Ms. Peddicord said.

“We’re just going to keep an eye on it. I think the biggest factor might be the salaries, but he’s taking some preliminary steps to reduce any overtime cost that we might incur, and I believe he also is chasing additional funding.”

Mr. Robertson, a retired U.S. Army officer, said he believes the chief accomplished a difficult mission he was unexpectedly faced with due to COVID-19.

“Maybe I think too much like a soldier, but (the police chief) was given a mission. He’s very much on-point, and he agreed that this was not the foundation for the future,” Mr. Robertson said of conducting upcoming police academies. “We have to go back to the drawing board and get a much better partnership with the budget side, with his staff, but this was over the (course) of a coronavirus and people working to accomplish (a goal). I would say (the chief is) at the 95% confidence factor.

“He’s not going to be off one way or too much to the point where I would (strongly encourage) you, if that is still the mission, to let him proceed, and then, we have agreed that he will come back, and we’ll take his pulse every couple of months before the budget cycle, and we’ll see where he is, and we can adjust course if he is out of balance.”

The wrench that was stuck in the machine and made it difficult to proceed without further study was the staff overtime generated during last fall’s COVID-19-driven training academy, which had not been budgeted.

“The fact that Chief Johnson doggedly pursued funding — and it looks like he’s going to get up to reimbursement of $30,000 of overtime — is a huge help,” Mr. Harline said of funding that is expected to be issued through a state-level grant issuer. “That makes both Ms. Petticord and I a lot more comfortable about this not being a significant burden on the city.

“Remember that this is an emergency event, and we’re trying to get about 14 officers ready for the street because they were down some (officers),” he added.

Chief Johnson said he had been unable to speak specifically about the overtime during the previous council meeting “because of the way it was coded and then wanting to identify the circling back (to) the funding source to make sure the vast majority of that, mostly COVID-driven overtime, was covered through a state-level grant issuer.”

“It’s one of those things where you have to demonstrate what’s happened, as opposed to what you want to do,” he said.

The chief added that, once he illustrated the numbers to the Criminal Justice Council within their guidelines, he was able to secure commitments in relation to the overtime that the city incurred during the fall training academy.

“One of the challenges we ran into in the fall session was almost inclusively driven by COVID challenges hitting us with almost no notice,” said Chief Johnson. “As long as I can go and get out in front (of any possible overtime), based on more anticipated schedules that won’t get impacted by wild cards of positive tests or quarantine or something else at one of the facilities that we’re using ... if I can get out ahead of the scheduling and move staff with appropriate notice, it doesn’t violate any of the contract terms and allows a greater quantity of the upcoming instruction to be on regular business hours.”

Mr. Robertson said the chief appears to have had a satisfactory outcome to an unexpected mission — putting police training academies together at a moment’s notice due to COVID-19.

“As near as I can tell, this council has chartered the chief with a very difficult and timely tasking,” Mr. Robertson said. “He did his best on condition one. He can do it successfully. Those of you who were at the graduation (a couple of weeks ago) saw the product of that from the output of the students and then participation of other communities.

“As near as I can tell, I think the assessments (council) got from Ms. Petticord, from the chief and Mr. Harline are on-point. He’s close. Does he have it down to a pinpoint dollar amount in February? No. If three students decide from some other place to not come (to the academy), those are all variables you won’t know until you get further in the game.”