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WPD Chief Tracy departs for top St. Louis job

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WPD Chief Robert Tracy | PHOTO COURTESY OF WPD

WILMINGTON – Wilmington Police Department Chief Robert Tracy was appointed Wednesday by the St. Louis mayor to take over the major Midwestern city’s top police role.

The police chief for Delaware’s largest city will continue to serve here until Jan. 6, when he will depart for the Missouri city about four times larger than his current home. Tracy has served as Wilmington’s police chief since 2017, when he was selected by Mayor Mike Purzycki as the first outside hire in the department’s modern history, but will now serve as commissioner of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. He was introduced by St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones at a press conference Wednesday morning.

“Chief Tracy has a proven record of reducing violent crime. He’s done so in multiple cities and I believe he can do it here,” Jones said in introducing Tracy, noting that she had received numerous letters of support from Delaware and elsewhere. “Something that stuck out to me as I read their letters was how Chief Tracy is dedicated to building community trust.”

Tracy had been public about his pursuit of the job halfway across the country, interviewing earlier this month in St. Louis during a live-streamed public town hall. He had informed Wilmington city leaders that he would step down from his post regardless of whether he was chosen for the St. Louis role.

“In the nearly six years I have held this post, I have had the fortune to work alongside our many committed residents, community leaders, faith leaders, members of the business community, and elected and appointed officials and staff to help make Wilmington a safer place,” Tracy said in a statement released by the city.

Prior to arriving in Delaware, Tracy was chief of crime control strategies in the Chicago Police Department from 2011 to 2016, and served 23 years with the New York City Police Department, including a stint as the director of the firearms suppression division.

The pick of Tracy from among four initial finalists from across the country is validation of sorts in Wilmington’s policing strategy that saw significant reductions in violent crimes in recent years, though the pandemic period of 2020-21 saw an uptick.

For much of the 21st century, Wilmington struggled to shed an image of gun violence and crime. It infamously was named “Murdertown USA” in a 2014 Newsweek piece that highlighted the struggles typically found in large metropolitan cities that have taken root here.

After Tracy’s appointment in 2017 – the city’s then-most violent year on record – there was a 60% reduction in shootings across Wilmington in 2018, which earned praise from then-President Donald Trump during a national policing conference. The bloodshed was trending downward until the pandemic, when 2020 and 2021 saw an uptick in shootings and a record number of gun-related deaths in 2021. This year, shootings and gun-related deaths have declined considerably in Wilmington year over year.

On Wednesday, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki congratulated Tracey on the selection and wished his family luck in their transition.

“The chief came to Wilmington during a very difficult time and leaves almost six years later with record reductions in homicides, the lowest violence in a decade, the lowest number of complaints against our police officers, and a very high level of officer retention. He institutionalized Wilmington’s crime analysis systems and his improvements will be preserved in the upcoming change in leadership. Most importantly, he built deep relationships with the community and the clergy,” he said.

Despite the overall crime reductions, Tracy was not beloved by all city leaders and was the target of a narrow “no confidence” vote by the city council in January.

Sponsored by Council President Ernest “Trippi” Congo, Tracy was specifically criticized over a failure to diversify the city’s police force, where only about a third of officers are minorities but police a city that is about 60% Black. Sporadic incidents of alleged racism and police misconduct within the ranks have also rankled city leaders from time to time.

Asked about that city council vote on Wednesday in St. Louis, Tracy dismissed the issue as “short-lived” and adding that recent Police Academy classes had diversity of more than 80%.

“My core values are about transparency … and I’m all about the values of diversity within the department,” he said.

A successor to Tracy, or an interim police chief, has not yet been named by the city and Purzycki said an announcement on that would be forthcoming.

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