Christine Dunning Hired as Wilmington’s First Female Police Chief, Proves She Can Handle the Heat
Laying it out on the line: Christine Dunning is Wilmington’s first female police chief. Can she rally the old boys’ network?
Photo by Michael Sahadi
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Given her diverse experiences, the challenges Dunning faced in advancing her career and her seven years in the human resources division, it’s not surprising that she places “restoring professionalism” at the top of her goals for the department.
To accomplish that, she wants officers to move around the department to broaden their experiences and knowledge—not just remain in a unit they like year after year.
“There are some generational issues” among veteran members of the force, she says. “Some only want to do traffic, some don’t want to supervise.” Such attitudes make it harder for younger officers to gain exposure to the variety of assignments they should have as they try to move into leadership roles. The slow economy of the last several years has compounded the problem, she says, since officers with 20 years of service are now more likely to stay on the job rather than retire and start a second career.
“Within a quasi-military organization, it can be hard to implement change,” Dunning says, but she and her top assistants, Cummings and Ayala, are moving in that direction through improved communications and increased collaboration.
“We’re including not only the command staff, but also the rank and file, in discussing plans for improvement,” Cummings says. “Officers on the street may not be making the big decisions, but they feel they are a part of the process.”
Fighting crime, however, is the department’s top priority. Quoting her predecessor, Chief Michael Szczerba, Dunning notes that “you can’t arrest yourself out of this problem,” and says that she and the mayor intend to “attack the crime issue from all different angles.”
Is She Tough Enough?
Dunning needs to put her money where her mouth is. But she can handle the street. Take the events of March 14, 1991, for example.
Tom Monahan, a retired master sergeant, remembers that day well. He was sitting at his desk in the research and planning department when the call came in. It’s another bank robbery, this time at the Wilmington Trust branch on Union Street near Pennsylvania Avenue. Monahan jumps from his desk, races down to the parking lot behind the old Public Building on Rodney Square and sprints into a patrol car. Dunning joins him. So do two other officers.
By the time they reach the crime scene, the four robbers have fled, leading other officers on a chase through the Highlands and Rockford Park before doubling back and crashing their getaway car into a van at Pennsylvania Avenue and Clayton Street. The robbers jump out of the car, split into pairs and attempt to flee.