Guardians of Georgetown: Community outreach/engagement cop police department attention

9 HEART hughes georgetown pd

Town of Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes outside the department headquarters on North Race Street.

GEORGETOWN — A female motorist slowed near the intersection of Pepper Street and North Race Street, and targeted Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes with complimentary words outside the police department headquarters.
“Thank you for all you are doing for this community,” she said.
The chief’s response: “That makes my day.”
Community engagement, outreach, prevention and school involvement are the name of the game for the police department, whose primary mission is safety for a community that is nearly 50 percent Hispanic/Latino.
“I firmly believe we are the guardians of Georgetown. We are not the warriors,” said Chief Hughes, “My job, our job here is to make sure our community is safe and we take care of our people. Arrest is certainly a tool in our tool box. But it doesn’t have to be the first tool we grab. Sometimes it’s the most appropriate tool and that’s when we should do that. But at the same …”
Chief Hughes, a 1980 Sussex Central High School graduate and self-proclaimed “Georgetown boy” has been chief since succeeding William Topping in May. He came to Georgetown after a long career with the Delaware State Police and a stint with Delaware’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
“This is a different kind of policing from that I had with the state police. It is much more community engagement. State police are doing some wonderful things. But it is a little bit different here. We have the ability to build those relationships,” said Chief Hughes.
With 18 sworn officers – three currently in the police academy – Chief Hughes intends to talk the talk and walk the walk.
Foot patrols
“One thing we are doing are foot patrols. We want our people to get out, walk into a store … engage people,” said Chief Hughes, recalling a statement from another source that said “community policing died when air conditioners went into police cars. Because (before that) we rolled the window down … you roll the window down and you listen.”
“I like the walking part. I really do,” he said.
That means Georgetown Police officers and department cadets – Jessica Perez and Israel Gonzalez, both students at Delaware Technical Community College. As cadets, they work about 12 to 15 hours weekly, wearing royal blue police cadet uniforms while canvassing the community.
“They do not have arrest powers. Their mission is L-O-R: Listen, Observe, Report,” said Chief Hughes. “They are on foot patrol. They walk all over different parts of neighborhoods in the town, and also the commercial area. They are wonderful young people. It’s really neat to see the interactions they have with the children when they are out on their foot patrols. Jessica is quite the rock star here in Georgetown.”
Bridging the cultural gap
Since he took office as chief the department has had the opportunity to bring on seven people.
“Five of those have been people of color. I think that is very important,” said Chief Hughes.
There’s a bilingual Spanish/English connection with Town Code Enforcement Officer David Hume and Police Department Administrative Assistant Linda Zelo.
Chief Hughes is not yet well-versed in Spanish. “But a good handshake and a big smile goes along way,” he said.
Drugs: Prevention is key
“Someone said, ‘Well, if we can find the terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan and we can destroy them why can’t we do that with drugs here in the United States. Well, we have a Constitution. Our military in foreign lands operates under a different rulebook than what we do here. We have to develop things like ‘probable cause’ before we go into someone’s house; and we should,” said Chief Hughes. “We, law enforcement, have spent lots and lots of dollars in attacking the war on drugs and the war on crime. But what we are missing is we need to focus on prevention – and treatment. The treatment piece is out there.”
Educational and positive role model efforts of First State Community Action Agency and Boys & Girls Clubs are allies in the war on drug addiction.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We certainly do have a problem with drugs. We’ve got it. Certainly now heroin is the No. 1 drug. We do need to have services to treat those folks but what we also need to be doing is we’ve got to do prevention,” Chief Hughes said. “We’ve got to work more with our children and our young people.”
Relationships a school resource
Joey Melvin is the Georgetown Police Department’s School Resource Officer. His beat: the five Indian River School District schools in the Georgetown area – Georgetown Kindergarten /center, North Georgetown Elementary, Georgetown Elementary, Georgetown Middle School and Howard T. Ennis School.
The aim is not necessarily to put problem students behind bars, said Chief Hughes, noting some believe if police are too quick to arrest and a child becomes involved in the criminal justice system, it just snowballs.
“There may be some truth to that,” said Chief Hughes. “To me, our model of School Resource Officer is not that. Arrest, is that a tool a School Resource Officer can use? Yes, but it is not the first tool. We want to work through whatever that infraction was, or whatever the concern was and develop a relationship and find out what went on within the educational context. The best way to do this is developing relationships with our children.”
Dating Data
Operational policing is data-driven through CrimeView, the most widely used desktop crime analysis and mapping solution in North America.
“Data can tell us what is going on and what has happened in the past because things seem to repeat. It maps it out, yesterday … last 14 days,” said Chief Hughes.
John Q. Public
Chief Hughes’ future hope is for the people of Georgetown to have the ability to log in and say, ‘OK, that’s where things are going on. We want all of the people to be our eyes and ears to help us.”
Homelessness
“I guess I was ignorant to understanding the homelessness issue, specifically in Georgetown. But there are a number of folks who are homeless,” said Chief Hughes. “There are agencies out there helping out, and the work they are doing is tremendous. We still have this problem. Addressing that goes to our concept of the guardian, being the guardian of the community.”
Go ahead: Call me Barney
Chief Hughes says he will not be offended by a reference to Barney Fife, the sheriff’s deputy in the 1960’s “Andy Griffith Show.”
“If I can get to where we are like Mayberry, then I’m doing a pretty good job,” said Chief Hughes. “Bad things happen in Georgetown. We’ve had a shooting; detectives are working hard on this case. We had a search warrant, and found heroin at residence. We have some bad things occur that here but there are far more good things.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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