Wilmington Police headquarters

Wilmington City Council refused to pass a resolution calling for a new Wilmington Police Academy class due to what council members described as concerns about the lack of diversity in recent recruiting sessions.

Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy sent a request to council asking them to help replenish a force that currently has just 281 of the 315 authorized positions filled (89.2%) according to numbers supplied by Wilmington City Council on their agenda for Thursday's meeting.

There was a turbulent debate that included Council President Hanifa Shabazz ordering an officer to remove Councilman Sam Guy from the floor, as she issued him a stern warning:

"If you continue to disrespect the order and decorum of this council, [you will be removed.'"

That happened after Guy initially proposed tabling the request because he  wasn’t confident that the Wilmington Police Department had dropped below the 95% threshold to hold a new academy, and no one from WPD was present at a meeting that ran about four hours, to answer his concern immediately.

Then the council had to consult with the parliamentarian, who told the council they did not have the option to table the measure, but had to revert the resolution back to committee if they didn’t want to have a yes-or-no vote on the issue.

The vote to send the measure back passed, with the effort being led by Councilman Trippi Congo (2nd District), who he hasn’t been pleased with the racial makeup of recent police academies.

“A class during the [Dennis] Williams administration was extremely diverse, and was more representative of the city. Since then, it hasn’t been done. We keep asking, they keep telling us they’re trying, but we need to see more.”

When asked how he’d rectify the need to fill the 19 positions to get back up to the 95% minimum, Congo punted.

“That’s an answer for the administration, it’s not our job to diversity, it’s our job to bring awareness, but it’s their job to diversify. I’ve talked to minorities on the department, and they’re frustrated; they say the process isn’t fair, so I think it was a great thing council did...to refer back, so they know we’re serious about making that department more diverse.”

Congo added his protest of the resolution came after he spoke with members of the police force about what they know about the academy.

“Once applicants have been accepted, the process isn’t fair. They get rid of lot of minorities through the process, so that process has to be closer looked at to make sure that it’s fair.”

Councilman Chris Johnson (7th District), said he understands where Congo is coming from, but the timing of the concern after the measure passed in committee, along with possible police retirements as the end of 2019 approaches, could extend the police shortage.

“This was vetted and questioned. The Wilmington Police had a chance to talk about their initiatives, and yes, I admit they need to do better, as all police agencies in Delaware need to, but I don’t believe the people of Wilmington should be held hostage, because now the council members have to tell their constituents we’ll have less police now.”

The last police academy ran for 23 weeks from March 4, 2019 to August 9, 2019, which was designed to get the department back to the full 315 when it opened.

If the police academy started immediately after council’s vote, it still wouldn’t finish until April 16, 2020.

In a statement released to WDEL on Friday, the police department refused City Council's assertion about the shortage number.

"The Wilmington Police Department has not yet reached the 95 percent threshold that would trigger the commencement of a police academy class,

but anticipate reaching that soon. Our intent behind proposing the resolution at this time, which was done in accordance with the Law Department, was to ensure that, should we fall below that threshold in the next couple of months, that the legislative calendar or City Council's winter recess do not delay our efforts to ensure our department is fully staffed and we can continue to operate efficiently and keep overtime expenditures to a minimum."