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Dover police chief breaks barriers as city’s 1st black chief

March 9, 2019
In this March 2018 photo Dover Deputy Police Chief Marvin C. Mailey works on his computer at the Dover Police Department, in Dover, Del. (Marc Clery/Delaware State News via AP)

DOVER, Del. (AP) — When Marvin Mailey comes into the Dover Police Department in the morning he does so with a focused sense of pride. He walks with a purpose — and history walks along with him.

That feeling of fulfillment doesn’t just come from Mr. Mailey being the first African-American police chief in the city of Dover’s long history, he said everybody in the department — especially the police officers — are the source of that pride.

It’s never just about him alone.

However, in the two years since Mr. Mailey was sworn in as Dover’s police chief, he has come to understand his role is different from past police chiefs, especially in the eyes of young minority children who can look at him and realize that if they too work hard, they can achieve their dreams.

“I think it’s more significant for young people to know that they have an opportunity to aspire to become what they want to become, and I don’t take that lightly,” Chief Mailey said. “I know I have big shoes to fill and that’s why I work so hard to try and honor the position.

“It’s very important to me and my family. It is an honor being the Dover police chief. I have a great agency. I know that I have a high standard to keep up and to follow all the previous chiefs.”

When Mr. Mailey, 52, was sworn in as Dover’s police chief in May 2017, he became the first African-American to rise to that position since the Dover Police Department was established in 1925.

Local community leaders were on hand to witness history being made at that city council meeting.

“This is a historic moment for the city of Dover,” the Rev. Rita Mishoe Page said at the time. “This is just what we needed at the right time. I’ve gotten to know (Chief Mailey) pretty well. I’ve sat right beside him on a couple of cases, and I’ve been meeting with him every month, so I know he’s a man of integrity, a man of his word, and he’s going to be fair and just.”

Chief Mailey, who began as a patrol officer in 1993, has been moving forward in his two years as chief.

However, despite declining violent crime statistics within the city’s boundaries the past couple of years, he said there is always more work to be done.

In particular, his police force is facing a tough task with the opioid crisis as well as trying to be fair when confronted with a homeless issue that has an estimated 300 or more displaced people out on the streets of the city of Dover.

“Our opioid problem is first and foremost in my mind,” said Chief Mailey. “One of our strategic goals is to drive that down. We’ve done a very good job in our violent crime numbers and keeping that down, but violent crime numbers are down nationwide as well.

“Another thing we are always concerned with in Dover is the homeless situation. That’s a tough nut to crack for a lot of jurisdictions. I think we handle it appropriately. We realize that being homeless is not a crime, however, there is quality of life issue sometimes that is associated with homeless individuals - panhandling, loitering and so forth. We realize that affects businesses and homeowners. People who want to come to Dover to open up businesses and move in, we realize that impacts their decision.

“Those are concerns that we have because those people are in situations for various reasons, but they deserve the same level of respect as everyone else, but at the same time we can’t let their situation infringe on other people’s quality of life. We have to maintain the balance there and that’s constantly a moving target for us.”

Adjusting to new role

Chief Mailey had served as deputy chief of the department since April 2014. He was named interim police chief for the retiring former Chief Paul M. Bernat on Jan. 9, 2017.

Once he was named Dover’s police chief, Chief Mailey said he wanted to be as visible as possible. However, that is beginning to change lately.

“I want to be visible,” he said. “I know I am the face of the organization in a lot of situations. I like for the officers to be the face of the organization, but for town events, for meetings and so forth, when they want the chief to be there, I certainly want to go out and engage with the public.

“I feel like they have a right to ask me questions directly and know how I feel about certain things, because I represent them. I not only represent the men and women of the agency, I represent them as well, too, because I’m a city of Dover official, for lack of a better term.”

The police chief added, “I’ve stepped back from that in year two. I really got out in front of it in year one. I wanted everyone to see me out there and to really connect with the community and now I want my officers to fill that gap. I want the community to know my officers because they do a lot of great work, so they need to have the interaction.”

Chief Mailey is a New York native and came to Delaware in 1989 when he began working as a correctional officer.

The most important thing to him, he says, is to never stop learning. And while he learned many lessons while serving as deputy chief, he admitted his chief of police position offers many more difficult challenges.

“I’ve learned so much over the past couple of years — personnel management is one of the big things in my job, (dealing with) a lot of different personalities inside the agency and outside the agency, connecting with community, working with them is vitally important. The business side of running the police department is something that I had some insight into because I was deputy chief for four years under Chief Bernat, but just really running the operation with the assistance of my staff in making the final decision on things - that’s very different,” he said.

“When you’re weighing in and giving your opinion that’s different than saying, ‘OK, this is the direction that we’re going to go and this is why we’re going to go in this direction,’ because I am responsible for everything. I’m responsible for every good thing that happens and every bad thing that happens, and that’s a heavy cross to bear.”

Chief Mailey credits the guidance and advice that many people have given him, including Delaware State Police Superintendent Robert Coupe and Col. Nathaniel McQueen, also of the state police.

He said advice that he received from them, as well as several other people, were instrumental to helping him adjust to his role as head of Dover’s police department.

“I did a lot of growing and I asked a lot of questions,” said Chief Mailey. “I leaned on a lot of people. I have a great network of peers, including other chiefs in the state. Colonel McQueen from the state police . within the first two months of me taking over, he and I sat in his office and had an in-depth conversation and I inundated him with questions.

“I said, ‘What problems did you have? What hurdles did you overcome? What issues do I have coming up in regards to my time here in Dover?’ And he gave me some very good points, some very good topics that I could learn from. He talked about his successes and failures and how I could progress.”

The future is now

It is obvious that Chief Mailey is laser-focused on his job.

However, he does have July 2020 circled on his calendar, because that is when he will be hanging up his sidearm and retiring from the Dover Police Department. It’s all part of his plan.

“I will retire in July 2020,” he said. “I came in knowing what day I would leave. I have a plan. I will work somewhere else and it will be a non-law- enforcement position. It’s time for me to return to being a normal person. I just want to be a normal person.”

The life of a crime fighter is never an easy one. There are long, stressful hours spent keeping dangerous individuals in check.

Chief Mailey is looking forward to the day when he can become plain old Mr. Mailey again. For now, he finds different ways to ease his stress.

“I go to the gym daily to relieve stress,” he said. “I’m an avid golfer . I’m not very good, but I’m getting there. It’s a work in progress. I’m an outdoorsman, I like to fish. I don’t hunt, but I do fish. Golfing has kind of supplanted fishing in my life. Golfing’s all-consuming now and if you’ve never played golf, don’t start. It’s bad. It’s worse than heroin (with a laugh).”

Chief Mailey is looking forward to traveling south to Orlando, Florida, with some friends in April for a four-day golfing excursion.

Then it will be back to work, preparing for his final year as Dover’s police chief. He said he gets his work ethic from his father Marvin Mailey Sr. and his late mother Dollye.

“I would say my mother and my father had the greatest influence on my life,” Chief Mailey said. “My mother was a registered nurse and she worked hard for over 25 years and my dad worked for General Motors on the assembly line for 35 years, and those were my role models. They gave me my work ethic.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Holding a piece of history as Dover’s first African-American police chief.

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Information from: Delaware State News, http://delawarestatenews.net

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