Georgetown police chief’s role a homecoming for R.L. Hughes

GEORGETOWN — Growing up, R.L. Hughes wanted to be a policeman.

After 24 years with Delaware State Police and a stint as chief deputy with Delaware’s Department of Safety & Homeland Security, he still yearns to be a cop.

Since May of 2015, he has been wearing the badge and hat as the town of Georgetown’s chief of police.

It’s been a homecoming of sorts for the soon-to-be 55-year-old Millsboro-area resident, who graduated from Sussex Central High School in 1980.

Town of Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes stands by the department’s “Guardians of Georgetown” pickup truck. He became police chief in 2015 following 24 years with the Delaware state Police and a stint with the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

“I think I always wanted to be a police officer. But I never thought I could do that because … I’m vertically challenged. I’m not that tall,” said Chief Hughes, referring to height requirements. “Being a police officer or being a fireman, yeah, I had those little boy dreams. And I am still that little boy still waiting to grow up. I was very fortunate.”

He retired from the state police at the rank of major in July 2009 and worked for Sec. Lewis Schiliro in Safety and Homeland Security.

“I had a wonderful career. I had an opportunity to do a number of things within that agency,” said Chief Hughes. “I can’t say enough good things about the Delaware State Police in my time there. But, I have to tell all of us in our lives we have different chapters. So, after retirement and getting to work with Sec. Schiliro and the Department of Safety and Homeland Security as the chief deputy, what a wonderful opportunity that was for me.”

“I missed putting on my uniform and helping people solve problems. The opportunity to come here to Georgetown, which is my hometown, that is a dream come true,” said Chief Hughes. “You can come home.”

A University of Delaware graduate, Chief Hughes graduated from the state police academy in 1985.

He and his wife Stephanie have two daughters; Julie, an attorney in the Washington, D.C. area, and Katie, a “rookie” Sussex County paramedic currently stationed in Long Neck.

“We’re quite proud of both of them,” said Chief Hughes.

R.L. Hughes

Ms. Hughes will soon begin her 32nd year of teaching. She is a counselor at East Millsboro Elementary School.

This week’s Person to Meet: R.L. Hughes.

What was it like to come “home” to work?

“It is so neat for me to be able to go out and do some foot patrols and walk around town or a get out of the car and someone will drive by and say, ‘Hey, R.L.’ When they say R.L., that means they know me. This is the town I grew up and they know me. That is a good feeling. With my time with the state police and Sec. Schiliro I really didn’t work in Georgetown. I live in Millsboro, and I would drive though. So, my adult life I did not spend a lot of in Georgetown. As a youth, I spent a lot time going around The Circle to the ACME parking lot. I was raised outside of Georgetown. I grew up near Cabbage Corner.”

Talk about change, as you call it?

‘Georgetown has changed. But that same charm and character are still here. We’ve got a lot of good wonderful people here just trying to work and make better lives for themselves and their families. What a learning curve for me. It’s a different style of policing than I had with the state police. Coming here we handled everything. With larger agencies, you have specialized units. Even more important which I find extremely exciting is the community engagement; developing those trust-based relationships with our community, all of our community so that we can all have a better and safer environment here in Georgetown. I find that working on a problem and having a tangible result is very rewarding. Of course, not always does it end that way.”

“If you always do what you have always done you’ll always get what you always got. I have not always embraced change but now I see the value of change. And change can come from just a simple little thing. You may find out it’s a better way.”

You refer to the police force as “Guardians of Georgetown”?

“I like the idea of that. It’s sounds so cliché: to protect and to serve. But a lot of things have been written in the law enforcement profession about the warrior mentality versus the guardian mentality. I get it. We’re here to take care of our community. But at any moment we are ready to take on that warrior model if we need to, to protect people. The guardian concept embraces so much more of the community engagement, being involved and being a part of the community, which I think law enforcement nationally needs to focus on that.

“That is not to say you won’t have folks doing things they shouldn’t be doing. We need to engage them as well and they will feel the full brunt of our law enforcement powers because we don’t want criminal activity going on here in the town.”

“There needs to be a nexus, a connection to the community. I don’t actually live in the town of Georgetown, but there is a strong connection for me to Georgetown.”

You instill the importance of education within the force?

“I do harp on our folks. I do very much believe in education. I wish as a young person I had embraced education more. I do have my bachelor’s degree. I do now have my master’s degree — and I have my wife to credit for all of those things. She finally taught: this is how you study, this is what you do.”

“I was on the Indian River School District board, and was then appointed to state board. I tell people I am not an educator by way of profession but by way of passion. An educated population leads to less crime, less unemployment, a more fulfilled population. And the more you read the more exposure you have to different things.”

Georgetown’s diverse population is about 49 percent Latino, according to the 2010 Census:

“We have eight employees who are bilingual. Now, they’re not all officers. We’ve hired seven officers during my time here and they very well represent their community, which they should. It’s important.”

Your thoughts on opioid/heroin addiction? 

“I was an undercover drug detective, so I bought drugs. I prosecuted large cases. And I have to be honest: Did I solve a problem? I’m not so sure I did. I think there are other ways of going about this. There was this ‘Go after supply.’ Wait a minute, there is still going to be a demand. Do you go after demand? We’re never going to get to zero.”

“People need to be held accountable, but addiction is a disease. I think we’ve come to the point where people will accept that for alcohol abuse or alcoholism and they talk about the disease. But sometimes when we talk about the heroin and other illegal drug addictions people do not so much want to embrace that thought process that it is an addiction and that it is a disease and we need to treat that.”

Do you get time off? If so, what’s your enjoyment?

“There is off time?”

“You can’t tell it by looking at me but I enjoy working out. I enjoy doing fitness kind of stuff. We have a little spot out back — you’ll see a tire, a couple tires and concrete blocks. I like to get out there and go until you almost can’t do it anymore.”

“And my wife and I have been very much about our girls. It’s family. We do a little bit of traveling. I have the dreams of doing the big traveling at some point when I really retire but I don’t know when that is going to be. I feel like I’ve still got some gas left in the tank. I want to keep plugging a

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