Dover records 9th shooting in 26 days

Mayor promises zero-tolerance policy for criminals

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DOVER — Some were injurious. Others damaged homes and vehicles.

And they add up to nine shootings in the capital city in 26 days, the latest Wednesday when a 23-year-old man was struck by gunfire in the arm.

Four persons were shot in a five-day span through Wednesday. Two wounded Tuesday were children, ages 12 and 17.

Another youth, a 17-year-old male, was arrested for a shooting April 27.

While Dover police said no victims suffered life-threatening injuries over the span — with wounds to an arm, leg, lower torso and hand — there’s clearly a surge of gun violence in Dover.

Dover police handled nine cases, Delaware State Police the other. One arrest has resulted overall.

And those incidents don’t include a slew of firearm arrests during the same period, with drug offenses regularly part of those cases, police said.

From April 1 through Wednesday, according to authorities, at least 16 guns had been recovered, including, among others, an AR-15 rifle, another rifle and a shotgun. There were 13 arrests made in the firearm cases, one of a man on probation and another sought on warrants.

Police add that some of the wounded haven’t been particularly helpful to investigators.

In the latest incident, believed to have occurred in the 100 block of South New Street on Wednesday, police said the victim was uncooperative with detectives and offered multiple versions of the event when contacted at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus in Dover.

Further, authorities said the injured juveniles in the Tuesday shooting on Barrister Place provided multiple and differing accounts.

Cooperation “varies by case, but we find that many victims refuse to answer questions by police or provide untruthful information,” Dover police spokesman Sgt. Mark Hoffman said.

And when a victim isn’t open and conversational, he said, “Of course it makes the job of the detectives harder, but it does not deter them from working the case and, in many instances, making an arrest.

“As far as what it says about a victim, it could mean they are afraid of retaliation in some cases. More often than not, we find that the victim was also involved in some sort of illegal activity, as well.”

Ultimately, he added, “The overwhelming majority of our shooting incidents can be traced back to the illicit drug trade and/or gang/group-related activity. This is not only true in 2022 but in past years, as well.”

There’s no predictability to when or where a shooting can happen, though.

“We have seen shootings occur at all times of the day and throughout different regions in the city,” Sgt. Hoffman said.

The recent spike follows what had been a slightly lesser number of shootings in 2022 over 2021. As of Wednesday, including the surge, there had been 12 gunfire incidents, involving eight injured persons. From January through May last year, there were 13 incidents, with 11 persons wounded and one homicide.

Even with the recent activity, Dover police did not categorize the city as dangerous overall.

“While we do not want to downplay the seriousness of gun violence and the effects of it, the overwhelming majority of the incidents are usually tied to the illicit drug trade and/or gang-related activity,” Sgt. Hoffman said.

When asked about the agency’s effort to curb such violence, he said, “We do not disclose investigative strategies or enforcement operations.” But solving the shooting cases “is an all-hands-on-deck approach,” he added.

Criminal Investigations Unit detectives are responsible for handling shootings, while the Drugs, Vice and Organized Crime Unit, the Street Crimes Section, the Patrol Unit and even school resource officers are instrumental in making arrests or gathering information, Sgt. Hoffman noted.

Dover Police Chief Thomas Johnson “stays in contact with the mayor and members of council and provides updates as necessary, to include any potential plans of action to address any and all public safety-related issues within the city,” he said.

On that note, Mayor Robin Christiansen, who oversees the police department, pledged Thursday to take a zero-tolerance policy to lawbreaking moving forward.

“As mayor of the city of Dover, I promise to uphold and defend the Constitution (of) the United States, the state of Delaware and the contents of our city charter,” he said. “As chief law enforcement officer, I can guarantee you that ... priority one at this point in time, as throughout my entire tenure as mayor, is the public safety and well-being of every man, woman and child in this city.

“And I intend to follow through on that promise, so I’m putting out a warning to the people that don’t know how to behave themselves, the 0.5% of people that decide to settle things with guns and knives, that we’re coming after you. We’re gonna go back to zero tolerance.”

As to what that zero-tolerance regulation means, the mayor said, “You’ll see, and let me tell you something, the folks that don’t know how to behave themselves had better start looking over their shoulder.”

As the city continues to recover from the pandemic, Mayor Christiansen said, “I’m trying to create jobs here and opportunities for every man, woman and child, no matter what their race, nationality, gender or color is, and I can’t do it as long as I’ve got a cluster of knuckleheads that don’t know how to behave themselves.

“So if you don’t know how to behave yourself in Dover, you can leave.”

Over the longer term and statewide, Delaware State Police have investigated fewer shootings from January to April of this year compared to the same span in 2021.

“We are not experiencing any upticks statewide in these types of events,” spokesman Senior Cpl. Leonard DeMalto said.

In data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Delaware had the 25th-highest firearm death rate, with 14.4 fatalities per 100,000 residents in 2020. Mississippi had the highest at 28.6, and Hawaii the lowest with 3.4. No numbers for 2021 have been released.

CDC also reported that, nationwide, roughly 124 people per day died from firearm-related injuries, and about 86% were male.

Shooting survivors are often scarred in many ways, and their communities are affected, as well, according to the CDC report.

The findings indicated, “People who survive a firearm-related injury may experience long-term consequences. These include problems with memory, thinking, emotions, and physical disability from injury to the brain; paralysis from injury to the spinal cord; and chronic mental health problems from conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The effects of firearm violence extend beyond victims and their families. Shooting incidents, including those in homes, schools, houses of worship, workplaces, shopping areas, on the street or at community events can affect the sense of safety and security of entire communities and impact everyday decisions.”

The report continued, “The economic impact of firearm violence is also substantial. Firearm violence costs the United States tens of billions of dollars each year in medical and lost productivity costs.”

Police asked anyone with information on the Dover shooting cases to call 302-736-7130. Callers may remain anonymous. Tips may also be submitted via Delaware Crime Stoppers at 800-TIP-3333 or here; a cash reward is possible for information leading to an arrest.