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
(page 4 of 4)
A gunfight with two suspects breaks out in the parking lot of the office building on the southeast corner of Pennsylvania and Clayton. Monahan takes a bullet in the knee. Seeking cover behind a parked car, he watches one robber climb a stockade fence and head into yards behind the houses on Clayton Street. The second robber tries to follow, but loses his grip on the fence on the cold and rainy day. He turns and points his gun toward the officers.
“It was clear the guy was not going to give up,” Monahan recalls. “[Dunning] ran up toward him and shouted, ‘I told you to put it down.’ He didn’t—and she put one right in his head. She showed more courage that day than in most of the cops I’ve ever seen.”
Williams, now Wilmington’s mayor, describes the scene as if he had been there himself. “He spun on her, there was a shootout,” he says, rising from behind his desk and striding across the room to approximate the distance between Dunning and the robber when she pulled the trigger. “And she won, so I take my hat off to her. I know she can make very difficult decisions. And that’s why I trust her in this position.”
Can They Make Wilmington Safer?
Both Dunning and Williams speak about “aggressive policing,” but there’s more to the concept than putting more officers on the streets, such as targeting the most serious offenders, following up quickly on nuisance complaints, having more eyes looking out for drug deals, and breaking up groups congregating on street corners after dark.
Another piece of this strategy, Dunning says, is “situational policing,” recognizing that every neighborhood is unique, with different concerns and varied levels of support for the police. Within each community, she says, the goal is to create “a safe neighborhood” by building trust and cooperation between residents and police.
Looking more broadly, Dunning and Williams say, creating safe neighborhoods requires teamwork with other city agencies—better work by Licensing and Inspections in pursuing code violations at vacant or rundown properties where drug dealers do business, and more Parks and Recreation programs to keep kids busy and off the streets. It also means building relationships with the state Department of Corrections to help individuals released from prison reconnect successfully in their communities and with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to link illegal firearms with unsolved crimes.
As Dunning moves forward, her biggest challenge may well be living up to high expectations. In his inaugural address in January, Williams promised to make a dent in violent crime within six months and asserted that, within two years, “you won’t even think it’s the same city.”
Brown, the councilman, doubts that goal can be achieved. “In my opinion,” he says, “the mayor has already thrown her under the bus.”
Williams has no doubt he’s made the right choice. “I support her 150 percent,” he says. “Christine is a superstar.”
Dunning lacks flamboyance—that’s for sure. But when you consider her experience in virtually every area of the Police Department, as well as her passion for Wilmington, Williams’ choice seems logical. Dunning hasn’t offered any unique proposals yet, in terms of handling Wilmington’s alarming homicide stats—but she is well-equipped to serve a city that needs help—serious help.
Dunning points out that fighting crime is not just her responsibility, or that of the police force. It’s a mission that involves the entire community. “We all have to step up to the plate,” she says.
That’s a statement we’ve heard before—from many a Wilmington official. The real question is, will Dunning be the one who truly inspires the community to get involved?
► For more from the June issue, click here.