Futuristic Crime Fighting Fit for a Movie

New Castle County Chief uses technology to crack down on real problems.


Published:

In Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller “Minority Report,” clairvoyants known as “precogs” reveal specific crimes just as they’re about to happen. Futuristic police speed to the scene and intercept the perp before he can do his dirty work.

Contemporary cops have no such luxury. But New Castle County law enforcement has come up with the next best thing, a computer-based strategy for anticipating where and when certain types of crime are likely to occur. The year-old Targeted Analytical Policing System has triggered sizable decreases in major crimes countywide and sharp increases in drug investigations and seizures.

The new approach is the brainchild of Col. Elmer Setting, who installed TAPS soon after becoming acting chief of police in late 2012. (County council confirmed his appointment in February 2013.) A 25-year veteran and former special-operations commander for New Castle County, Setting believed the department needed to change its crime-fighting model. “We were doing it wrong. We had to get off the 911 treadmill,” he says. “We were getting straight A’s in response time to serious crimes [murder, rape, robbery, shootings], but an F for lesser crimes, such as kids drinking in the park. If you handle the quality-of-life problems, you’ll address major crime as well.”

The concept of setting a tone by focusing on lower-level crime was first articulated by a pair of social scientists in the early 1980s. Dubbed the Broken Windows theory, it’s been the subject of law-enforcement debate ever since. But Setting had a hunch—and he asked Mike Walsh, a retired sergeant who is now a civilian analyst for the department, to evaluate county data for nonviolent crimes, including drug dealing. The study showed that the areas in which they occurred spawned most of the serious crimes as well. When Walsh probed further with in-house software, he identified the days and time frames typically associated with the various crimes. 

Just like that, a new level of intelligence had emerged. Without hiring new officers, Setting added a fourth mobile enforcement team and scheduled the units to cover the hot spots, including Edgemoor Gardens, Sparrow Run and several neighborhoods along Del. 9 outside Wilmington during the targeted periods. He then took his case to the rank-and-file.

“The buy-in from the workforce was evident,” says Joseph Bryant, the county’s director of public safety. “You could see it was working.”

And it kept on working. For 2013, the total number of criminal incidents in New Castle County fell by 10 percent, with a substantial decline in shootings (47 percent), homicides (41 percent), and assaults, robberies and burglaries (each about 27 percent). Meanwhile, drug investigations spiked by 64 percent, with seizures (by weight) increasing for cocaine/crack (35 percent), prescription drugs (31 percent), heroin/opiates (270 percent) and methamphetamine (an eye-popping 1,440 percent). 

Even more impressive, the dramatic turnaround came without additional manpower or dollars, as an anticipated drop in 911 calls accompanied the shifting of some patrol officers into TAPS zones. The results have been verified by the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and have attracted the University of Delaware’s Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice as a research and grant-writing partner. There’s even some anecdotal evidence that real estate values have nudged higher in TAPS neighborhoods. 

Most significantly, though, the strategy of reducing serious crimes by tackling lesser crimes was validated. “We send the message that nuisance crimes are not tolerated,” says Setting. “Otherwise, drinking on the corner at 7 a.m. becomes a burglary at 9 a.m.”

Indeed, nuisances often turn into major arrests. Setting cites a recent example of an Edgemoor man urinating on his lawn. A MET unit (a sergeant and five officers) spotted him and, soon after, discovered a stash of drugs and weapons. “The guy didn’t want to miss any business by going inside,” says Setting.

A native of Wilmington’s Forty Acres neighborhood, Setting graduated from the police academy in 1989 after four years in the U.S. Navy. Tom Gordon was New Castle County’s chief of police at the time, and he addressed Setting’s class, emphasizing the need for “community policing.” 

A quarter-century later, Gordon, in his third term as county executive, would appoint Setting to his old job. In between, Setting attended a session at the Senior Management Institute for Police that featured a case study of New York City Transit Police Chief William Bratton’s clamping down on subway turnstile “jumpers.” The current New York City police commissioner created a law-abiding transit system that led to the department’s national accreditation in the early 1990s. 

Setting says his thinking has been shaped by the shared perspective of Gordon and Bratton. In New Castle County, technology has made their strategy an idea whose time has come. The software that launched TAPS is now bolstered by an internal website and other tools that provide every member of the force and other police departments (Wilmington and Delaware State Police among them) with an overview of the county’s high-crime areas. Setting designated Capt. Wendi Feeser the department’s first technology/grants officer and relies on his executive officer, Lt. Pat Crowell, to “make sure everything works.”

“He’s an enlightened chief,” says Gordon of Setting. “He’s pushing the limits.”

Gordon made “predictive policing” a cornerstone of his 2012 campaign for county executive, and he has long backed technology investment and related training. With TAPS’ success, county decision-makers are of like mind in terms of fighting crime. “You need the support of the executive and [county] council,” says Bryant. “And Elmer’s leadership has taken things to another level. It’s spread throughout the entire public-safety department.”

Classified as a yeoman (administrative/intelligence officer) in the Navy, Setting could handle just about every function aboard a missile cruiser. As such, he helped keep the sea lanes open off the coast of Libya in the mid-1980s. Similarly, during his police career, he’s held most major commands, including patrol and mounted—even switching gears for a stint as chief of detectives. 

After a game-changing rookie season as chief, Setting finds no shortage of challenges and is intent on setting new goals and changing the department’s M.O. to suit them. One crime category that didn’t knuckle under to TAPS last year was theft, with low single-digit increases in both general and vehicle-theft percentages. Setting plans to reverse that in 2014. A newly created property-crime team within the patrol has been aligned with detectives, slowing the pace of such crime so far this year. 

Also new on the organizational chart is a special section within criminal investigations—this one with no regular caseload. “They’ll go wherever detectives think they should be deployed,” says Setting.

New Castle County’s is not the only nimble, well-informed police force, nor is its use of TAPS-like methodology unique, but it has established an identity beyond the state. Last year, Setting’s team visited the Tampa (Fla.) Police Department to compare procedures, and this October, they’ll be a presence at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Orlando. 

Back home, Wilmington’s “intelligence-led policing” has a familiar ring. “We don’t have the same technology capability [as New Castle County], but it’s the same type of strategy,” says Wilmington Chief Bobby Cummings, a 29-year veteran who’s worked closely with Setting in and around the city. “We share information, come to each other’s meetings. Why should we set boundaries? The criminals certainly don’t.”

Indeed, criminals can be a surprisingly inventive bunch, which is why Setting and his team will continue to analyze and refine their approach. With the computer’s prescience and a serious work ethic, they hope to keep the odds tilting their way.

 

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May 2018

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Cost: free

Where:
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
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Cost: free

Where:
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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The 11th annual Artisans Fair, featuring unique handcrafted art objects, will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at Lord Baltimore Elementary School on Route 26 in Ocean View, DE. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lord Baltimore Elementary School
Route 26
Ocean View, DE  19970
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Sponsor: South Coastal DE AARP Chapter
Telephone: 302-732-6336
Contact Name: Ida Crist
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GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Science Saturday – River Rangers River Rangers learn how to gauge the health of our local waterways by observing the variety of critters living in it. Visitors of all ages are invited to...

Cost: Activities are included in regular admission and free for members.

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
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