A brilliant crime strategist with a "tough guy" mentality, who could be a major change agent for the city of Wilmington at a time when violence is rapidly rising--that's the reputation experts say has been earned by the city's appointment of Bob Tracy as chief.
Tracy was handpicked by Mayor Mike Purzycki to lead the police department beginning Friday, April 14, 2017. Many hope he will lead Wilmington away from its infamous moniker "Murdertown USA," and put a halt to the year's record-breaking pace of gun violence.
As former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy's most trusted adviser, the pair served together in the New York City Police Department as well--before McCarthy was ousted when a video was released of an officer under his charge shooting a 17-year-old man 16 times. Tracy retired then, and took a job as a top executive at a private security firm.
Tracy is renowned for his crime strategy.
"Bob Tracy was kind of a brash, intelligent New Yorker, who kind of was maybe the Robin to Gary McCarthy's Batman," said Frank Main, a Pulitzer Prize-winning crime reporter for The Chicago-Sun Times. "He had a great command of all of the crime statistics in Chicago...and was a tough guy."
"He has 23 years in the NYPD--at a time when the NYPD was the greatest big-city police force in the United States and coming up with the most community-based and innovative, data-driven strategies that are now common practice in the United States," said community policing expert Dr. Michael Jenkins, Associate Professor in Sociology, Criminal Justice, & Criminology at The University of Scranton and editor of "Police Forum"
Main said Tracy held his commanders responsible for violence in their districts; the strategy helped reduce crime dramatically during his tenure.
"[Violence] almost went up 50 percent the day they walked out the door," said Main. "Murders literally rose 50 percent in 2016."
While most of the crime spike is likely attributed to the police officers' fear to act in the wake of the video that led to McCarthy's departure, Main said Tracy borrowed strategies from academia that truly worked to reduce violence.
"You could almost call it, like, a future crime strategy where they would identity people who are likely to commit crimes or to become victims, and they would concentrate on those folks," said Main.
Though he left at a time when the department was under siege, both Jenkins and Main said Tracy wasn't a part of the problem, which ran much deeper.
"You could say that McCarthy and Tracy could have been stronger in requiring their commanders to hold officers accountable for bad stuff, and that's kind of been a problem for Chicago...for 20 years," Main said.
"As police chief of Wilmington, he's going to have responsibilities for creating some good conditions for the police to work with the community--and those conditions, I don't think were in place in Chicago, and I think that's what gave rise to the terrible incident--not only the incident of the Laquan McDonald shooting--but also the police department and the city's handling of that incident," Jenkins said. "Chicago, I think for many people, is it's own beast, and I think the McCarthy Administration, of which Tracy was a part, was kind of a victim of the difficulties that police and politicians had in Chicago."
Due to Wilmington's small size, both Main and Jenkins predicted Tracy will be able to bring great, cutting-edge changes to the city much more quickly than he could in Chicago--though he cautioned the Wilmington Police Department could be in for a shock.
"He's shown himself to be someone who is open to the newest and best ideas in policing, and who is sensitive to the changes in policing," said Jenkins. "We're at a time when policing in the United States is undergoing great change and reflection on what it is to be for our cities, what police are to do for our cities."
"For better or for worse, I don't know if your police department is ready for that kind of scrutiny and being held accountable for their actions every day about what's going on in their neighborhoods, but certainly, that is what you're going to see under this guy," Main said. "You will probably see Tracy bring in a system where whoever's working underneath him better know, specifically, who's shooting who, why is it happening, [and] what are the motives."