Salisbury Chief Duncan: ‘The people come first’

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Salisbury’s police chief is a personable woman, highly educated, thoughtful before speaking.

The city’s first female chief, Barbara Duncan is a graduate of Pace University School of Law, where she earned a juris doctor degree. It was rigorous, she said, shaking her head at the memory, comparable to academic boot camp.

It’s not that she aspired 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. Always, she remembered her parents’ advice, to be the best she could.

“My experience in law school was the most valuable experience. It shows you new limits. I wouldn’t trade the experience, but I knew I wanted to be chief,” she said.

And she was, 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. “Not what I would have chosen for her, but I’m very proud of her,” Duncan said.

Chief inset

She and her husband, a retired police captain, are raising them to live their lives by example, because a police chief’s life, the chief believes, “is out there for inspection.”

A native of New Jersey, 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.

A typical day for Duncan begins around 5 a.m., when she checks e-mail, to see what has happened in the city overnight. Often, she answers work-related telephone calls well before daylight.

“Certain things demand that I get a call. We made sure there is proper support on the street, to be sure we have enough officers,” she said. Usually, there are eight to 15 officers patrolling.

Before leaving for work, she walks the dogs, makes sure the children have breakfast and lunch and that their homework is completed.

By 8 or 8:30, she’s in the office, overseeing a staff budgeted for 102 officers, including 10 new members of the force who will be hired in January. Duncan would like even more, but is confident the additional 10 will allow the agency “to made strides toward further reducing crime.”

Daily, the police department’s focus is on what’s known as Part One crimes, major offenses tracked by the FBI.Sa

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.

“We are more than just report takers. When the officer develops a relationship with the residents it makes it safer for the cop and for the residents,” she said.

“We can’t get anything done outside unless we get it done here inside first. All internal office functions are the backbone of the agency and patrol officers are the backbone of what happens on the street,” she said, sitting on a sofa in her roomy office, with a bicycle on its kickstand nearby. Committed to exercise, she believes in “sweating every day.”

Duncan, in a typical day, provides leadership, works on job descriptions and procedural manual updates, reviews policy, makes sure the police department is consistent with Maryland training mandates, answers e-mail, tends to phone calls, attends meetings and patrols every couple of days.

“No two days are alike,” she said. There’s excitement, and she likes that, even the accompanying stress.

“I still find it very enjoyable and very satisfying to be able to confront problems and being able to work through those issues,” she said.

Her plan is to stay in Salisbury and retire from the police department in years to come. “There is a lot of personal satisfaction I get here. My family enjoys it here. I work with an outstanding team. I know how critical leadership is and I have respect for leadership,” she said.

“As chief of police, if you want to be successful you have to be able to hold yourself out for criticism and be able to accept you’re responsible to the people,” Duncan said.

“The people come first.”

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