Chief Duncan: ‘Leadership is a daily challenge, one I readily submit to’

Duncan MAIN

Tony Weeg Photo

She’s a mom of six kids.

And a surfer. And a cross-fitter.

And police chief.

Chief Barbara Duncan oversees an annual budget of $11 million and 102 police officers.

The city’s first female chief, Barbara Duncan is a graduate of Pace University School of Law, where she earned a juris doctor degree.

She didn’t want to be a lawyer; her interest was always in police work, but she chose to delve into law with a depth and determination that elevated her above competitors.

She was police chief in Mount Vernon, N.Y., before coming to Salisbury in 2010. She has relatives in the area and, at home, a husband and four of their six children. The two older ones are on their own now, but four of them, ranging in age from 9 to 16, are at home. The oldest daughter is a police office in New York.

A New Jersey native, Duncan grew up attending Catholic school and graduated from Mercy College in New York and Westchester County Police Academy, also in New York. Her career began in Ocean City in 1987, where she was also on the Beach Patrol.

Her focus is on what’s known as Part One crimes, major offenses tracked by the FBI. During the past four years, there has been more than a 50 percent decrease in violent crime in Salisbury, largely due to how issues and problems are analyzed, how patterns are tracked.

Officers walk through neighborhoods, become familiar with occupants, immerse themselves and develop an understanding.

It’s a new way of policing in Salisbury, and the results would appear to be spectacular.

Q. You’re low key, yet commanding. And demanding. How does one develop that combination? How does one make it all work?

A. My comportment comes from years of experience. I’ve had the privilege of working under some great leaders.

As my knowledge of law enforcement grew I make it my business to take the best of what these leaders offered to guide me in developing my style of leadership. My former agency provided me with ample opportunity for growth and maturity and over time I gained the experience necessary to lead by example.

Leadership is a daily challenge, one I readily submit to and constantly learn from. My experience has taught me that when you demand more of yourself and those you lead, you get a better result every time.

Q. You’re the first chief in a long time to live in a city neighborhood.  What do your neighbors call you? Barbara or Chief?

A. It’s important to be a part of the community you are serving.

You are better connected and informed when you are part of the neighborhood. My neighbors call me Barbara!

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Tony Weeg Photo

Q. I understand you love to take pictures. Does photography bring you peace?

A. No. Peace comes from a good workout.

Photography is a way to add some perspective to my experiences as a law enforcement professional who enjoys balancing private life with the public responsibilities of my office.

Q. You have a lot of “firsts” on your resume. Is it hard to be the first-in on so many endeavors?

A. Success in municipal policing is rarely about “firsts.” The industry of law enforcement demands persistence, vision and hard work, among other things.

My parents instilled in me the importance of giving my best, no matter what I was working on. They also taught me the value of enjoying what I do.

I think the combination has proven successful for me.

Q. Do you feel like you’re always having to prove yourself?

A. No, I don’t feel that way at all. My work product speaks for me.

Q. Which was harder: Proving yourself as a beach lifeguard in Ocean City or proving yourself as a police officer?

A. Being a surf rescue lifeguard was an outstanding summer employment experience for me. The summers I spent on the Ocean City beaches helped me to begin to understand what it meant to be part of something bigger than one’s self.

The responsibilities entrusted to me while working in Ocean City were exactly what I needed to prepare me for my law enforcement career.

Q. What were your first impressions of Salisbury?

A. Returning to the region I was very happy to see that the city had grown.

Salisbury is truly a regional hub for commerce, education, medical services and choice in residential style.

Q. What condition did you find the Police Department when you arrived?

A. This was interesting because the command staff had completely changed over within a period of approximately 12 months and the members of the department did not know what the future leadership of the agency would look like.
In situations like this, it is not uncommon for a department to fail. The command group at the time under the leadership of Acting Chief Ivan Barkley and Captain Dave Meienschein kept the agency upright and moving forward.

This team stayed focused on the mission of service and protection.

Q. Salisbury had gotten a bad reputation in terms of crime. Crime is most definitely down since your arrival. What’s happened?

A. A number of things have happened; Salisbury had been awarded the Safe Streets grant through the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention prior to my arrival.

Being familiar with the mandates of Safe Streets, it was fairly simple to begin to develop our partnerships with the other law enforcement agencies in the region and immediately began sharing information and resources.

Recognizing that law enforcement cannot fight crime in a vacuum we also worked on developing relationships with our neighborhood associations and civic groups, the Board of Education, Probation and Parole, Corrections and the other City Departments.

The agency was restructured to place additional police officers out on the street while utilizing Compstat to get real time data out to those officers. We focused internally on both sworn and civilian staff to insure that training needs were met and that all members of the agency had the equipment needed to get the job done.

Q. Explain the difference between Part 1 and Part 2 crimes.

A. The Salisbury Police Department voluntarily submits information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation along with approximately 18,000 other agencies nationwide.

We participate in this program because there is a value in providing information which helps shape the national view of crime.

We submit a monthly report Part I and Part II crimes. There are eight Part I crimes which include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny and arson. These are serious crimes and as such are more likely to be reported to police.

Part II crimes track arrests from crimes involving prostitution, fraud, embezzlement, drug abuse, gambling and a host of other crimes.

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Tony Weeg Photo

Q. Community policing has been a debated topic here, historically. What are your thoughts? Does it work?

A. I am a proponent of community policing. This strategy has evolved from its 1980’s application of Weed and Seed law enforcement.

Today officers partner with residents and business owners to determine the needs of the particular neighborhood. This collaboration produces better and sustainable results and inspires cooperation between the police department and the community it serves.

Q. How significant has the Safe Streets program been?

A. Safe Streets has been critical to the success story here in the Salisbury area. Simply stated; this crime reduction model works and focuses on violent offenders.

GOCCP funds a dedicated prosecutor, a crime analyst, a Safe Streets coordinator, overtime for criminal enforcement by the Sheriff’s Office and SPD and several technology platforms to streamline enforcement efforts.

This funding has been instrumental in region-wide crime reduction.

Q. Talk about Operation East Side.

A. This was based upon the High Point North Carolina crime reduction efforts which involved focused crime deterrence.

We sent officers, our Safe Streets Prosecutor and our Safe Streets Probation and Parole representative to High Point for several days to exchange information with their counterparts.  The team returned, reached out to the community and worked to identify individuals responsible for causing the problems in the neighborhood.

Criminal cases were built against those identified individuals. These individuals participated in a ‘call in’ and were given an opportunity take advantage of services and to refrain from reoffending or face arrest.

The residents had a part in crime reduction in their neighborhood and the process was transparent which was beneficial for law enforcement.

Q. What can the public do to help the police?

A. The public can help law enforcement in a very simple way; Participate in the Citizens Police Academy.

The Citizens Police Academy allows the public to inspect police operations in a ‘hands-on’ learning environment.

It connects members of the public with police officers, prosecutors and members of the judiciary and sheds light on the entire criminal justice process. Individuals who complete the Citizens Police Academy have a better understanding of crime and how to work with police to reduce crime and the fear of crime.

For information on how you can participate please contact the Operations Commander, Captain Cheryl Rantz at 410-548-3165.

Q. You’re a police officer and a lawyer. Do you see yourself one day going back to practicing law?

A. The study and practice of law has been a passion of mine for over twenty-five years. As a police officer I put myself through law school.

I never intended to use my law degree to practice law. The idea was to better myself and distinguish myself from my colleagues who would be competing for the same limited leadership opportunities within my agency.

The decision to attend law school consumed my financial resources and consumed most of my free time as well. While I wouldn’t wish the experience of holding down a full time job while attending law school on anyone, my law degree has proven invaluable.

Q. The State’s Attorney’s Office, like the city Police Department, went through a transition four years ago. Do you and your people work well with the prosecutors?

A. We have a solid professional relationship with the members of the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s office.

We look to the State’s Attorney’s office for guidance in bringing criminal charges, search warrant applications and training in legal updates. Mr. Maciarello has designated an Assistant State’s Attorney to work directly with Salisbury Police Department investigators and has made the resources of his office available to the our agency on a 24/7 basis.

Interestingly enough Mr. Maciarello and I attended the same elementary school and we share a strong work ethic.

While we don’t always agree on matters of law, nor should we, both of us are in agreement that the public we serve deserves the best we have to offer, every day.

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Q. The local NAACP chapter has held some forums on the issue. What have you learned from these?

A. The Salisbury Police Department reached out in partnership to the NAACP and similar groups beginning in 2012 after members of the command group attended a seminar which analyzed race relations and law enforcement.

We committed ourselves to building the relationship with NAACP in order to reduce crime. Our commitment to this process remains.

Q. With the overwhelming majority of crimes being committed between people who know each other, what can the police really do to control crime anyway?

A. Police can have a profound impact on crime, and Salisbury is the model of positive impact. Continued crime reduction is inextricably linked to the relationships police build with the public we serve and the trust the public has in law enforcement.

Q. Some observation cameras have been installed in some sections of the city. How is that going?

A. The observation cameras around the city are a plus.

The Body Worn Cameras systems will be an even bigger shot in the arm.

We are in the research phase and we will have an announcement on the Body Worn Camera systems in early 2015.

Q. Talk about the so-called gang problem.

A. The gang problem in this region is not “so-called,” the gang problem exists and we actively engage this criminal element on a daily basis.

SPD has assets attached to the Maryland State Police Gang Unit, the Narcotics Task Force and the U.S. Marshals high risk warrant unit to combat the gang problem. We could not do get our job done without the work these groups do in the City and the along the Shore.

Q. What is the city’s Police Department’s relationship with the Sheriff’s Office?

A. It’s my understanding that the relationship with the Sheriff’s office has not always been a good one.

This has changed and we routinely work side by side with our partners in the Sheriff’s office to push crime down.

Our citizens are well served by the collaborative efforts of the various agencies. Its common sense and it is the best use of the financial resources available.

Q. Where would you like to take your department?

A. We will continue to research and embrace crime reduction through technology driven platforms.

Streamlined law enforcement applications which put police resources in place to prevent the crime from happening is much less expensive on our tax base and promotes a more economically viable city.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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