The move came two days after a Special Public Safety Committee Meeting was held by City Council for the purpose of addressing Police Chief Tracy with questions and concerns.
WILMINGTON (DE) BY DIGITAL STAFF: During their regular city council meeting on Thursday, January 20, 2022, council members presented their opinions on various matters connected to a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in the City of Wilmington’s Police Chief, Robert J. Tracy, and the Wilmington Police Department (WPD) practices.
In an effort to make positive changes in policing, while hearing community voices of those affected most by policing in Wilmington, Council Member Chris Johnson of the 7th District introduced a resolution, on behalf of City Council President Ernest “Trippi” Congo, that urges the City of Wilmington’s administration to take actionable steps, as the executive branch of government, to actively work with experts to reform the WPD, which can be read here.
Council voted 6 -yes (1st District Council Member Linda Gray, 2nd District Council Member Shané Darby, 3rd District Council Member Zanthia Oliver, 4th District Council Member Michelle Harlee, 6th District Council Member Yolanda McCoy, City Council President Congo)
and 4 -no (8th District Council Member Nathan Field, At-Large Council Members Maria Cabrera, James Spadola, Loretta Walsh) to pass the resolution. Council Member Johnson co-sponsored the resolution but voted present due to uncertainty of a possible FOIA violation. 5th District Council Member Bregetta A. Fields was absent from the meeting.
According to a news release from Wilmington City Council Public information officer, Yesenia Taveras:
“The move came two days after a Special Public Safety Committee Meeting was held by City Council for the purpose of addressing Police Chief Tracy with questions and concerns by Wilmington City Council relative to various policing policy matters, that include WPD diversity, WPD community response, and monitoring crime and strategy for violence prevention to name a few.
“Chief Tracy has been extremely resistant to any ideas to increase diversity and transparency, and any ideas as far as police reform,” said President Congo during the meeting. “From my previous session, when Chief Tracy first was hired, it was extremely difficult for Chief Tracy to give us a plan to increase diversity. I believe we had to go through two or three council meetings of him requesting to begin another class, and all we wanted from him before we approved a new academy was to hear his plan to increase diversity, and he was extremely resistant.”
Under the resolution, City Council recommends that the Administration engage in a national search to identify a third-party entity to conduct an audit of the WPD operations and procedures to be completed within 90 days of passage of the legislation.
Councilwoman Gray expressed her support of the resolution by stating, “I truly believe there are problems within the police department. I think we need a separate entity to come in and identify the problem areas and give us suggestions on how to improve them. I don’t think it stops with the police chief. I think the administration has not really been supportive of any changes or any transparency. Also, they haven’t given us the Citizens Complaint Review Board.”
On November 19, 2020, City Council passed Substitute 1 to Ordinance 20-034 as amended to create a Citizen Complaint Review Board that is authorized to investigate citizen complaints against law enforcement officers employed by the WPD, make reports of those investigations and to recommend practice changes.
Although Council passed the amended ordinance, which was sponsored by Councilman Johnson, it became law without Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki’s signature pursuant to Section 2-202 of the Charter.
Sec. 2-202. – Submission of ordinances to the mayor.
Every ordinance shall, before it takes effect, be certified to the mayor for his approval. The mayor shall sign the ordinance if he approves it, whereupon it shall become law. If he disapproves it, he shall return it to the council with the reasons for his disapproval within ten (10) days after he receives it. If the council shall pass the ordinance by a vote of two-thirds of all of its members within fifteen (15) days after the ordinance has been returned with the mayor’s disapproval, it shall become law without his approval. If the mayor does not return the ordinance within the time required, it shall become law without his approval. The mayor may disapprove or reduce any item or items of any ordinance making appropriations, except the items in the annual operating budget ordinance making appropriations (a) to the auditing department for the compensation of auditors regularly employed by it and (b) for the work of the human resources director which shall become law if any part of the ordinance is approved. Subject only to the foregoing exceptions, the approved part or parts of any ordinance making an appropriation shall become law, and the part or parts disapproved shall not become law unless passed by the council over the mayor’s veto as provided herein.
“Solutions have been presented, and there have been a number of ways that we’ve just been waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting,” said Councilwoman Harlee. “I think the biggest thing and the main thing that I hear a lot is, when is our chief going to stand up, speak up, show up, or share what is going on with the crime.”
In 2018, Mayor Purzycki and Police Chief Tracy unveiled www.CrimeMapping.com and CompStat online reports, so that citizens could have a tool to use to track crime in Wilmington and to keep the public informed. CompStat reports provides weekly, monthly and year-to-date crime data, which were presented in great details during the 2018 WPD CompStat Year End Report press conference.
The platform showed that in 2018 there were a total of 22 murders, which can be seen here, and a total of 23 murders in 2019, which can be seen here. In 2020, when the world experienced the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, CompStat data showed a total of 31 murders, which can be seen here. The most recent CompStat report on the WPD website, which can be seen here, indicates that there were a total of 39 murders, the highest Wilmington has seen since Chief Tracy’s tenure with the WPD.
For some council members, the resolution speaks to not only accountability and transparency, but also to police conduct.
“My grandmother and great-grandfather talked about police brutality. Older people in the community talk about police brutality. This is something that has been happening forever,” said Councilwoman Darby. “It’s time that we put pressure on WPD to tell them that they have to be held accountable. For me, it’s also not about an individual, too, there are systemic issues and systemic systems in play that are used to brutalizing and cause violence towards communities.”
On September 28, 2021, City Council President Congo issued a letter to Police Chief Tracy calling on his department to release any body camera footage, audio and related 911 calls surrounding an incident that occurred in a convenience store on the 500 block of New Castle Avenue where a WPD officer was caught on surveillance video slamming a man’s head against a partition while pursuing an arrest. The letter, which can be read here, has gone unanswered. The incident is under investigation by the WPD Office of Professional Standards, and the officer was placed on administrative duty pending the outcome of the investigation.
To view a list of policies and procedures that WPD adheres to, visit the link here.
“I think we also need to be battling to change the rules as they are in the legislator in terms of more transparency. There is a lot of protection and a lot of power given to police departments in our nation, and the choices that they make are life and death, and we’ve seen how some of those choices have not been good,” said At-Large Councilwoman Cabrera.
The vote of no confidence is the first for Police Chief Tracy, since he was hired on April 14, 2017, with the highest salary paid for any city employee, including previous Chiefs and Mayors.
“He gets paid $160,000 and he can’t do a press conference? I like the chief, we get along fine, this is not throwing anybody under the bus,” said Councilwoman Oliver.
Initially Chief Tracy’s salary was $160,000, but since he’s been hired his salary has increased to more than $190,000.
President Congo also expressed frustration at the inner workings of the WPD, and believes that Chief Tracy needs to be more proactive and vocal about a plan forward, whether it’s a plan to improve community relations, increase diversity, or a plan to improve morale in his police department.
“I’ve heard numerous officers talking about the morale being extremely low,” said President Congo as he spoke about the numerous complaints he and other council members have received from sworn officers about WPD leadership in general, which has led to the urgency of the resolution.
“I just want Chief Tracy to do the right thing. I’m not trying to fire him. I’m not trying to defund the police, although some people may, I just want to give him an opportunity to do the right thing.”
Although Chief Tracy is ultimately responsible for every facet in the operation of the WPD, At-Large Councilman Spadola wants judges and prosecutors to be tougher on people arrested on firearm charges, saying that too many are back in neighborhoods too soon because they get freed while awaiting supervised release or post bond.
“I think the only vote of no confidence, in terms of crime, the vote of no confidence should be against the court system that keeps putting career criminals back out onto the street, so that they can make more victims.”
Even though there was a divide in opinions, many council members agree that the intent of the resolution was to address leadership and the longstanding complaints about WPD internal operations, which in return impacts external relationships.
“This is a vote in support of our constituents, and especially from the officers in the Wilmington Police Department who are extremely frustrated and demoralized when they don’t feel there is an opportunity to advance,” said President Congo.