Bob Tracy served with the NYPD from 1984-2007, was chief of crime control strategies in the Chicago Police Department from 2011-2015, and was named the Wilmington, Delaware police chief in 2017. He spoke with PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler about his career, improving homicide investigations and other aspects of the Wilmington Police Department, and protecting Joe Biden during the recent Democratic National Convention.


Chuck Wexler: Can you give us an overview of your career?

Chief Bob Tracy: I’m a second-generation police officer. My father was a Bronx homicide detective. That’s what drew me to work in the NYPD. I became an officer at 20 years old, worked in the Bronx and Manhattan, and worked up to commander of the firearms suppression division before leaving for the private sector.

I had a great opportunity to come back into policing from 2011-2015 under Garry McCarthy when he became superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. I was chief of crime control strategies, which was really building Compstat from the ground up. We implemented a lot of strategies that had worked in the NYPD. In 2013 and 2014 we were able to lower crime, especially violent crime, shootings, and murders, to almost 50-year lows.

I was back in the private sector for a year, then had the opportunity to interview to be the Wilmington police chief. For the first time in the almost 200-year history of the police department they went outside the agency and did a national search. The mayor chose me to be the chief of police in May 2017. We’ve had some success here, and we’re looking to sustain that for the future and legacy of this department.

Wexler: What was the situation when you arrived in Wilmington?

Chief Tracy: In 2014 there was a Newsweek story called “Murder Town USA (aka Wilmington, Delaware).” It talked about the high per capita murder rate, the homicide clearance rate, which wasn’t very high.

I came in after a change in leadership, and the new mayor wanted to do an outside search. When a department is in flux and doesn’t know who their new police chief will be, people might hunker down as they try to figure out who the new chief will be and what direction they will take the department. All that is a recipe for things to get a bit out of control. By the time I came aboard, we were heading for some of the highest numbers of murders and shootings in the city’s history. Homicide clearance rates in prior years had been in the low teens.

When I came into the department, I saw talented detectives, talented police officers, and some talented executive leaders, but also some disengaged people in leadership positions.

A couple years before I arrived, as a knee-jerk reaction to increases in violence and the Newsweek story, they had moved their community policing unit into a “disrupt” unit. They made violent crime arrests but moved away from going to community meetings and partnering with the community to reduce crime.

Wexler: PERF, with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, conducted a study of your homicide investigation process.* You’ve now seen the study and have been making changes as the study was being conducted. What changes are you making to the homicide investigation process in Wilmington?

Chief Tracy: Coming in, I talked to the detectives and there were changes I wanted to make. The PERF/BJA report helped validate those changes, because the recommendations from organizations that are respected nationally and were in line with what I thought needed to change. I made some changes in the leadership to people who were receptive to change, and they saw some of the things that needed to be done.

We needed to get back to the basics. I talked to older detectives, and they said they used do that, but they kind of got away from that. PERF and BJA validated some of the old practices we had gotten away from and identified some of the new things we should look at, especially with technology. But you can’t get away from the basics of case review, checklists, how you connect with the community, and how you work cold cases.

Wexler: What were the 3-4 most important things you did to change the Wilmington Police Department?

Chief Tracy: For starters, I work for a mayor who told me that he ran for mayor to be mayor, not to be police chief. He helped me take politics out of the department and run it in the best way possible for the community. He just hears a plan and trusts his police chief to go carry it out. That’s one area where I see a lot of cities struggle.

Number two is community engagement. I believe every officer should be a community police officer, starting with me. We have 49 civic associations in this city, and we make sure we go to every single one. I keep the same officers on the same beat every time they work. I have detectives go to the scene of every incident that shows up on Shotspotter, including those where no one was shot, to canvas like we would if someone had been shot. When we do that, the community really starts to feel that we care. It’s not that we didn’t care before, but we demonstrate it by showing up at meetings, follow up with them, and work with them on issues.

Detectives and officers should know the community, so that when they’re on the scene of a homicide or nonfatal shooting it isn’t the first time they’ve met those community members. Detectives say that has helped them out immensely. And our homicide clearance rate went above the national average at 63% in 2018. Last year we were up to 67%, and this year we’re hovering around 75%.

I implemented Compstat as an accountability process. It doesn’t have to be exactly like New York City Compstat, but Compstat is transferrable and scalable. It works for a 35,000-person department in New York, a 13,000-person department in Chicago, and a 400-person department in Wilmington. Compstat brings in community engagement, Shotspotter, clearance rates, and case review.

My intelligence center analysts, detectives, duty captains, and I all attend roll calls to let officers on the street know everything the intelligence center knows, including conflicts and where shootings are occurring. Some think they could just get that information through their CAD or email, but there has to be a conversation about it. They get information at every roll call, and our officers are now doing a lot of proactive work to identify people, particularly those with a propensity for violence or carrying guns.

Wexler: How do you get to know a department when you come in as an outsider?

Chief Tracy: In the beginning I was going to most shooting scenes. I go to every community meeting. I see my officers and read their reports. I identify everyone doing great work out there and personally thank them. I live right in the middle of the city and I’m never really off duty. I might be out of uniform, but my radio is on and I stop by our directed patrols. It’s not uncommon for me to pull up to an officer at 2:00 a.m. and walk a foot post with him or her.

Labor Day weekend my wife and I are hosting a barbecue at our house to thank the officers for all their work during COVID, the protests, and the Democratic National Convention. These are the things I’m doing to build morale and thank them for the work they do each and every day.

Wexler: Former Vice President Joe Biden lives in Wilmington and he participated in last week’s Democratic National Convention from there. What was last week like for your agency?

Chief Tracy: Even before the convention, on August 12th, Joe Biden announced his nominee for vice president at a hotel in Wilmington. I had to help coordinate that with the regional agent in charge from the U.S. Secret Service, who we have a great relationship with.

Then they said that they were planning to pivot the convention here. Normally a city would have several months to start planning for a convention, and we had seven or eight days. We had to make sure the city was safe and we put our best foot forward with our federal, state, and local partners. I trusted the professionalism of my police department and our leadership team, and we were able to plan for it in a very short period of time.

The Democratic National Committee, the Secret Service, and everyone else working on this were professionals, but we all had to scramble to pull this off safely in that amount of time. I think our working relationships have become stronger because we relied on each other and got the job done.


*This study is not publicly available, but PERF’s 2018 BJA-funded report titled “Promising Practices for Strengthening Homicide Investigations” is available at


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.