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Wilmington moves 2 steps closer on police body cameras

Axon body camel

Wilmington has made two major advances on equipping all of its uniformed police officers with body cameras.

City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a contract for equipment and installation, WDEL reported. The vote was on the same day the city announced a $630,000 federal grant for body cameras.

The issue goes back a while. Police officials had tested several camera models in recent years, Delaware Public Media reported in June 2019.

Councilman Trippi Congo in September 2019 introduced measure calling for a five-year, $1,954,836 with Axon Enterprise, an Arizona company.

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By June of this year, with protests escalating over the death of George Floyd and others at the hands of police officers nationwide, city leaders were pledging to “to support police and racial justice reforms.” Those reforms include police body cameras, review of use of force policies, establishing a police review board and release of additional police procedures

With the grant coming from the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, Police Chief Robert J. Tracy said the next steps include discussions on policies with the FOP Lodge No. 1, the police union.

The department’s authorized staffing will increase to 319 officers from 315 to supervise the program. Tracy said the policies have been developed on program operations, storage and sharing of video and other administrative requirements. These policies are being reviewed by the city’s law and human resources departments and will be made public later. 

The news generated praise by all three of Delaware’s Congressional delegation and by state Attorney General Kathy Jennings. “The next step is clear: funding and deploying body-worn cameras on every officer across our state,” she said.

Axon’s home page says its cameras “capture truth. Connected cameras that tell the full story.”

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Crime Featured

Stolen mail found near abandoned vehicle in Newark

generic crime scene tape photo

Mail that had been stolen from several Newark mailboxes was found Monday morning near a vehicle that had been abandoned on a bicycle trail, police said.

Newark Police were responding to a report of a vehicle in a stream along the James F. Hall Trail, near Apple Road.

“Officers determined that the operator of the vehicle had been driving on the bicycle trail westbound when the vehicle became disabled in the area of a pedestrian bridge,” police said. “The operator of the vehicle fled the scene of the collision.”

A check of the area disclosed discarded US Postal Service outgoing mail, which police said had been stolen, probably earlier that day, from mailboxes at Ritter Lane and Beverly Road, East Main Street and Tyre Avenue, and Ruthar Drive in Harmony Hills.

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Police are trying to determine if the incident is related to previous mail thefts in Newark.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Lt. Fred Nelson at 366-7100 ext. 3119 or fnelson@newark.de.us.

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Crime

County police officer charged with unlawful sexual contact

A New Castle County police officer has been charged with unlawful sexual contact in the third degree,  county police said Wednesday.

Multiple outlets have identified the officer as Robert Grover, 32, and said the incident occurred Saturday at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. “Gaming enforcement agents said they spoke to multiple witnesses of the alleged crime and captured video surveillance,” WDEL reported.

The misdemeanor charge follows an off-duty incident involving an eight-year veteran of the department.

Due to the location of the incident, a criminal investigation was conducted by Delaware State Police, and the officer was charged.

The officer has been placed on administrative leave with pay as the investigation is conducted.

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Crime Government

911 outages aren’t connected, state official says

Problems with 911 service on Sept. 28 and Monday aren’t connected, a state official said, and the causes are still being researched.

“Our state 911 administrator is working closely with 911 network providers to determine the extent and cause of this disruption,” Gina A. Chasanov, chief of community relations for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said Tuesday.

“There is no direct connection with the previous 911 outage that occurred last week.”

The two outages differed.

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Delaware State Police dispatch centers experienced a statewide interruption in service on Sept. 28, police said. Monday’s outage affected cell phone subscribers in Kent and Sussex counties, police said.

On Monday, “while some calls were rerouted to call center administrative lines, other calls were unable to connect,” Chasanov added. “Cell callers were immediately advised to text 911 or call administrative phone lines in case of an emergency.

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Crime

Former boyfriend charged in Newark teen’s homicide

Noah M. Sharp was charged with three felonies.

Madison Sparrow’s former boyfriend has been charged with her murder, Delaware State Police said today.

Noah M. Sharp, a 19-year-old from Newark, was taken into custody and charged with three felonies: murder first degree, possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony and conspiracy first degree.

Madison, a 17-year-old from Newark, was last seen Friday afternoon and was reported missing Friday evening.

Police said that after the homicide occurred, her body was transported to a secluded wooded location in Newark, where law enforcement officers discovered it.

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Sharp was arraigned in the Justice of the Peace Court 2 and committed to Howard R. Young Correctional Institution on a $1,021,000.00 cash bail.

“At this time, there is information indicating additional individuals may be involved in this homicide,” police said.

Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to contact Detective Mark Csapo with the Delaware State Police Homicide Unit at 741-2729.

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Crime

Body of missing Newark teen has been discovered

Help us find Madison Sparrow

Police today announced that they have found the body of Madison Elizabeth Sparrow, a17-year-old from Newark reported missing on Friday.

It is with incredible sadness that I share this,” a post on  Finding Madison Sparrow began. “Law enforcement has found Madison’s body. There is an ongoing investigation and we need to allow them to do their job so that anyone involved can be held accountable. Please understand that we cannot provide any additional information at this time. There will be no comments to media.”

Let enforcement will handle this for the time being,” the post continues. “The entire family is processing this and grieving, so please allow them to do so. All the support and outpouring of love has been amazing and so appreciated. Please know that it will forever be appreciated.”

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Crime

Fields searched for Newark teen missing since Friday

Madison Sparrow posterA Gold Alert is out for Madison Elizabeth Sparrow, a 17-year-old from Newark who is missing.

The Find Madison Sparrow Facebook group on Sunday afternoon conducted a search for her in fields near Farm Lane and Library Avenue, near the University of Delaware agricultural campus.

Kimberly Cowperthwait Turner, who said Madison was a former student, posted on Facbook a note from Madison’s mother: “Dairy Queen at 3 p.m. yesterday, then friend claimed she took Madison and dropped her off with a strange man at Wawa near Limestone Road. I received strange text as did some of her friends at 3:23 from her cell phone, and it’s been turned off since. Text sounds nothing like Madison Sparrow. Nothing is making sense right now.”

Madison is a white female, approximately 5-foot-4, 105 pounds, with long brown hair and wearing glasses. She was last seen wearing black tights, denim shorts, gray boots, a blue hoodie that says “New Jersey” and white ghost earrings.

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Gold Alerts, according the state code, are issued for missing people with a disability, missing suicidal people and missing senior citizens.

Troop 2 of Delaware State Police asked for tips at 834-2620 or 911. A poster circulating online asked people to call Heather Murphy at 593-2714. Information may also be provided by calling Delaware crime stoppers at 800-TIP-3333 or Crime Stoppers.

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Crime Featured Government

Newark officials: Mugging, arsons a spike in otherwise downward trend of crime

Fire fighters battle the blaze at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newark. Photo by Michael Romagnoli/Newark Camera Shop
Fire fighters battle the blaze at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newark. Photo by Michael Romagnoli/Newark Camera Shop

A spike in crime in the Newark area isn’t out of the ordinary as University of Delaware students return to campus, but a recent Main Street mugging and two fires started by arson has raised some eyebrows.

Even so, Mayor Jerry Clifton says he has faith in the police department to solve the cases and stop the arson.

“We usually see an increase in crime in the fall around when the students come back,” said City Manager Tom Coleman. “We usually run more frequent patrols in the area during the fall.” 

They are often to protect students, who generally are the victims of crime, not the perpetrators, officials and business owners said. 

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Lt. Andrew Rubin seconded that. 

“There is a rise in crime in Newark when the students come back. It’s not usually violent crimes,” said Rubin. “More people mean more crimes.” 

Recent incidents included two men mugging a pedestrian and then robbing him on Main Street, as well as arsons at an empty apartment building and the Chabad Center for Jewish Life on South College Avenue.

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“Arson fires aren’t common in the Newark area. Robberies aren’t common either,” Rubin said. “I can’t tell you much about the arson investigations because we’re not the lead investigators on that, the fire Marshall is.”

Some residents have noticed a heavier police presence. 

“I like to go bike riding at night. I feel safe,” said Michael Romagnoli, owner of Newark Camera. “The night before last I went to go take pictures of the Newark train station and a UD patrol car stopped to check out what I was doing.”

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The business owner also has noticed a rise in crime around the time UD reopens. Students moved into dorms last weekend for the fall semester, most of which will be online.

“I think a lot of it is people coming from out of town to prey on the students,” Romagnoli said.

Marilyn Vickey, owner of Grassroots on Main Street, echoed that.

“I’ve never associated crime with the students coming back,” Vickey said. “There’s muggings and purse snatchings, but it’s usually the students that are victims.”

Newark police seek men who attacked, robbed Main Street pedestrians
Newark Police released these images of some Main Street pedestrians being attacked and robbed.

Clifton believes that it is a bit too early to speculate about what recent crime means for the city.

“Before we make a comment on the arson, we need to see the extent of the investigation,” Clifton said, “We need to see if there was an issue or disagreement between the two parties in regard to the mugging.” 

The mayor is confident in both the police ability to solve the cases and in the cities’ overall response.

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Romagnoli, who was biking in the area at the time of the Chabad house arson, smelled the smoke and came racing to the scene to snap pictures of fire fighters in real time. 

“The arson is disturbing enough as it is,” Romagnoli said. “What we need to know is if this was just people messing around or if this was a hate crime.”

Investigators have said there is no evidence the Chabad fire was a hate crime. A student-led fundraiser has collected  more than $500,000 to rebuild the center.

Romagnoli was not only concerned with the fire as a neighbor, but a business owner as well. 

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“I think we have the second oldest building in Newark,” said Romagnoli of his shop on Main Street. “We have cameras installed as well as security alarms. but there’s still not much we can do to prevent an arson.”

Clifton believes the recent events are a spike in what is otherwise a downward trend in crime in the area.

“If you look at the last 10 years in Newark, crimes has gone down,” the mayor said. “This is reminiscent of 2007 or so when we had home invasions. Police put an end to that. This is just another bump in the road.” 

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Crime Featured Government

ATF offers $5,000 reward in Newark arsons

The federal government today offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for two arsons in Newark in August.

“At this time, investigators do not have evidence linking the two fires together but have not ruled out that possibility,” according to a statement from the Baltimore office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The fires were on Aug. 25 at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, destroying it, and on Aug. 17 at a townhouse under construction, causing $5,000 in damage.

The Chabad Center, at 262 S. College Ave., serves University of Delaware students.

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“There is currently no indication to suggest that this fire was a hate crime,” the bureau said in a press release.

A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $500,000 to build an improved Chabad Center that’s double the size of the one that burned. County records describe the house as a 1930 Cape Cod with almost 2,000 square feet. 

“Someone destroyed more than the little blue house,” the campaign says. “They destroyed the walls that held 20+ years of memories, life, and laughter. … In the shadow of the fire, and amongst the ashes, a light of unity will shine brighter and much longer than the fire of destruction.”

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Shortly after 3 a.m. on Aug. 17, a fire was discovered inside a townhouse under construction in the unit block of East Cleveland Avenue. “An individual was captured on video surveillance in the area of East Cleveland Avenue on the morning of the fire [and] has been referred to as a person of interest but may be a witness,” a press release said.

ATF special agents are working alongside the Delaware Office of the State Fire Marshal, so tips can be sent to 888-283-8477, ATFTips@atf.gov. 302-323-5375 or fire.marshal@delaware.gov.

 

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Another Newark fire called arson; person of interest sought

 

Newark arson
Investigators are asking the public to help identify a person of interest in a recent townhouse fire.

A fire two weeks ago at a townhouse being constructed in Newark was arson, the Delaware Office of the State Fire Marshal announced today.

Newark arson
Investigators are asking the public to help identify a person of interest in a recent townhouse fire.

The fire was discovered shortly after 3 a.m. Aug. 17 in the townhouse, in the unit block of East Cleveland Avenue.

“The interior of the townhouse was damaged by the deliberate fire,” said Michael G. Chionchio, assistant state fire marshal. Damage was estimated at $5,000. 

This is the second time in two weeks that the office has decided that a Newark fire was arson. Last week, a fire destroyed the Chabad Center for Jewish Life.

Arson is also blamed for a few recent trash fires on Lehigh Road, on Newark’s western side, he said. 

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When asked if anything connects the fires, Chionchio said, “We’re keeping an open mind.”

Investigators are asking for the public’s help in identifying a person of interest captured on video near the townhouse by calling 302-323-5375 or emailing fire.marshal@delaware.gov.

A GoFundMe campaign run by University of Delaware students has raised about $500,000 to rebuild the Chabad Center “even better, grander, and larger with even more space to host even more students, thereby bringing even more light to this world than ever before,” the page says.

East Cleveland Avenue is a popular site for townhouses rented by University of Delaware students.