As a kid, Wilmington University alumnus Dover, (del.) Police Chief Paul Bernat spent hours watching 1970s crime thrillers, like “Baretta,” “Starsky & Hutch” and “CHiPs.” These TV shows eventually inspired him to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Just two weeks after landing a job as a patrol officer with the City of Dover Police Department, he knew he’d made the right career choice. Working the midnight shift, he spotted and apprehended a man who had assaulted a woman hours earlier at what was then the Blue Hen Mall.
It was Bernat’s first big case.
“[Police work] is an exciting job,” he says, adding that he’s wanted to be a policeman since childhood.
In July, Bernat celebrated 25 years of service to the Dover Police Department, having risen through the ranks from patrol officer to chief of police. His many roles in between as a K-9 officer, supervisor of the community policing, motorcycle, parking enforcement and animal control sections, public information officer and major/deputy chief, among others helped prepare him to lead Dover’s police force of 93 uniformed officers and 31 civilian employees.
Last spring, Dover Mayor CarletonE. Carey Sr. tapped Bernat to replaceretiring Chief James E. Hosfelt Jr. Soon after, Bernat announced the department’s
top priority: to address Dover’s growing illegal drug problem.
“Probably 90 percent of all crimes that are committed are because of drugs, so I’ve definitely put an emphasis on drug arrests,” Bernat says. “We have a zero tolerance on that.”
Bernat plans to build upon his pre-decessor’s momentum. Under Hosfelt’s leadership, violent crime hit a three-year low in Dover, and the department reached a 65 percent clearance rate for burglaries and robberies.
In July, leaders at the department’s criminal investigations unit announced it was on track this year to set its best clearance rates (the number of cases cleared or solved) in five years.
Bernat also plans to focus on community policing and increase the number of neighborhood watch organizations in the city.
“[Being police chief] is the pinnacle of your career, so obviously it’s very humbling,” he says. “It’s almost an over-whelming feeling at first, and then it sets in that now I have to do it. It’s one thing to say you’re the chief, but another to actually be the chief.”
On the advice of administrators at past training schools, and after decades of service in other capacities, Bernat intends to step down as chief.
“It gives other officers a chance at the helm,” he explains. Wu—Donna Gregory