Chief Cecilia “CC” Ashe was sworn in as Milford’s first female police chief on Monday, February 13 after council voted unanimously to hire her in the position that former Chief Kenneth Brown vacated in August. Chief Ashe was chosen after a nationwide search conducted by GovHR since Chief Brown announced his retirement.
“My first reason for applying to Milford was opportunity,” Chief Ashe said. “In Delaware, there’s not a lot of chief jobs that come open, but I am a 17-year veteran of Wilmington Police Department. It has always kind of been my plan. I’ve had a house here in Sussex for over 15 years, so it’s kind of always been my plan to start to move further down state and come closer to the beaches down here and closer to my house down there which I do not get to spend much time in. I am really looking forward to going onto a different chapter in my career and moving down to an agency here in Milford which is one of the largest police agencies here in Sussex. It is just an awesome opportunity.”
Chief Ashe worked as the Inspector of Operations under then- Chief Robert Tracye and has a combined 27-year career in law enforcement that included positions in Arlington County, Virginia. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and is currently working on her Master’s in Administration of Criminal Justice and Organizational Leadership, both with Wilmington University. She is a graduate of the Police Executive Research Forum Senior Management Institute for Policing Session 70. Chief Ashe is married and has two sons.
“I knew just through my experience here and being a police officer in Wilmington that there had been tremendous growth down here in Milford with the new hospital going in, a lot of residential building and apartments,” Chief Ashe said when asked what she knew about Milford before being hired. “Just working with the former chief, Chief Brown, on various committees and stuff like that. The department’s very progressive, always trying to stay top notch for the type and size agency it is, but I think that’s always a struggle for small towns with smaller budgets, just really trying to move forward.”
Chief Ashe explained that it is important to look at policing today, including police reform and body cameras. She also stated that looking at mental health is becoming a much larger part of policing today which is why getting clinicians on the field is important. She praised Milford for already implementing those strategies in order to not only keep the public safer but also to assist police officers in doing their jobs. When it comes to the challenges she will face, Chief Ashe believes most of those challenges will fade with time.
“I don’t know if it’s so much challenges as it’s just things that are going to take time. I think learning the organization. I’m thrilled to be here. I mean, these officers are just the cream of the crop, like they’re very engaged. So, I think for me the challenge is, and I don’t know if I’d phrase it as a challenge, but I think just learning how things operate, taking time to evaluate the department, getting the officer’s feedback on which direction they want the department to go and continue to advance,” Chief Ashe said. “But I think also building trust in the community. That is not so much a challenge as it’s going to take time. And that’s not something that happens overnight. Milford is a very tight community. But I mean, just such an amazing community where just everybody is nice, and they’re friendly, and they just take care of each other. So really kind of a small town feel, but you can feel the growth and the advancement within Milford so I would say just time in getting to know people and continuing to incorporate that in advancing the department at the same time and getting the trust of the community.”
One of the things Chief Ashe is looking forward to in the new position is to see what she can bring to the table, how she can help grow the department in a positive way.
“I think when you look at the way the community here embraces the police, I think that’s quite refreshing. In today’s society, and quite frankly, it’s just a joy. I enjoy it,” Chief Ashe said. “I said to my wife the other day, “It’s nice driving into work and smiling and it’s just a different feel, but it’s an awesome feel.” I think looking at how the community has embraced this police department and building them a $20 million new police station that’s hopefully going to be ready October of 2023. So, just a great a great time to come into this organization. And just really want to get it to the next level and really put these officers first.”
While working in leadership in Wilmington. Chief Ashe oversaw a budget of $65 million and was recognized on multiple occasions for her ability to apply business principles, along with common sense strategies, to the department’s budget which ended in an impressive cost savings of millions of dollars for the first time in over ten years. In addition, her relationships at the state and federal level were instrumental in the successful acquisition of approximately $8 million in grant funding. Chief Ashe was also recently recognized by the National Institute of Justice for her leadership, oversight and strategic planning while implementing Group Violence Intervention. She led enforcement actions on group/gang-involved violence, requiring collaboration with local, state and federal law enforcement as well as coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and State of Delaware lead prosecutors.
“As the former Inspector of Operations and former Inspector of Administration with Wilmington, I often, especially in the operations capacity, had to engage with City Council. I often testified for the police department, whether it was before budget hearings for city council, and things like that. So I do have vast experience in dealing with city council,” Chief Ashe said. “What I think is very refreshing about this city council is none of them are out for themselves. They’re out to move the city of Milford forward which is just really refreshing. And I think I have their support having a unanimous vote. I didn’t hear anybody say nay when they swore me in, but I mean, even right down to the mayor, and to city council, like just so personable, very nice. They have embraced me and my family.”
Chief Ashe feels that the citizens of Milford should count their blessings that they have a council who supports the police department and is not in discussions to defund them. She explained that one of the draws for her to come to Milford was that everyone in city government, from the mayor to council to the city employees had figured out how to work together to move the city forward.
“When you look at it, this is working,” Chief Ashe said. “People are moving here and you have such a great diversity of people coming to town. You have the first African American mayor and now the first female police chief. It just shows how Milford balances diversity. Now, with the Chamber of Commerce working toward more affordable housing, it just gives everyone the ability to live here and thrive.”
When it comes to being female, Chief Ashe does not believe there is more pressure on her in the leadership role.
“I had a colonel in the Marine Corps, a female Colonel, tell me one time people don’t care and these officers are the same way here. I had a department wide mandatory meeting yesterday and it’s just very clear. These officers don’t care if you’re black, you’re white, you’re straight, you’re gay, female or male. They just want to be led. You give them the mission, and they will follow that mission, and these are officers who risk their lives every single day for the citizens and really for this country,” Chief Ashe said. “In all the challenges that we’re facing, I don’t think they look at me as a female chief. I think all those things are awesome, right, I want to continue to bring diversity and diversity of thought. But I really just think it’s about, “hey, his is a fresh set of eyes on our department.” And yeah, she’s from the outside, but, you know, let’s see where we’re going. Let’s enjoy the ride.”
One thing that Chief Ashe plans to focus on with the department is the health and wellness of her officers.
“One of my very strong focuses in this organization is going to be officer health and wellness. When we talk about defunding the police and we talk about police reform, people often ask me, you know where, where do we think we need to reform police? And I think we have to remember that you really have to focus on officer health and wellness first, because when we focus on our officers, teach them the skills, knowledge and ability on how to deal with, quite frankly, some of the worst things that they see and most people wouldn’t even see in a lifetime, how do we teach them the skills to focus on their own health,” Chief Ashe said. “When that happens, the citizens are getting a good product. When we treat our officers with respect and dignity and justice, then they in turn will go out on the street and feel the same way. towards their community. So, I think that’s where we really have to start in police reform is reforming how we treat our police officers and making them our priority and their families. Give them the ability to come to work every single day. And quite frankly, see that this is the greatest job on Earth.”
Although there have been negative comments on social media about Chief Ashe being from outside Milford, she does not believe those comments will impact her position as the head of the police force.
“I think you know, it’s like anybody right? Move into a new neighborhood your neighbors are going to take their time getting to know you. So, I think any community that’s worth living in, is also going to sit there and say you got to earn it,” Chief Ashe said. “So, like I said, I think that is going to be one of the things that is going to take time. They’re going to have to get to know me, to know who I am as a person, know who I am as a police officer and know who I am as an executive that really wants to provide the best community services to them. So that’s going to take time, but I appreciate people who are very protective of their community, because that shows that there is a close community bond. And it’s almost like the military, like you got to earn your stripes and so I think those things are okay. I don’t take offense to it. It’s all factual. But I think it is just it’s going to take time. And I look forward to listening to everybody. I don’t get easily offended. Even some of the employees have asked me those questions. Again, I think it’s just about embracing it, articulating why I came here, why I choose to come here. I mean, quite frankly, you know, there’s a lot of police jobs open across this country.”
The process to become the Milford police chief was not an easy one, Chief Ashe explained. It was a very competitive process, but she thinks that is because it is such a good department. She also sees the vision in where it needs to go.
“I’m very much a boots on the ground type of person. I’m going to be out there with the officers, out with the community. I was out today. Jo from the commerce office and I went walking through the town. I stopped in at the museum to learn just some of the interesting history. You know, like hey, did you ever eat any small ice cream cups? And you have had those little wooden spoons? Those were made right here in Milford. And who would know that this was actually one of the larger shipping building yards. I know the river has probably shrank a little, but I love history. And it’s just, it’s just a good feeling,” Chief Ashe said. “I’ve just grabbed a cup of coffee, walked off and taken it in. I mean, who can complain when your office looks out on a beautiful river? You can sit by the river and eat your lunch. It is such a beautiful town. I came in over the weekend and walked my dogs downtown. So many people came to introduce themselves and talk to me. Of course, that may be because I had a puppy with me, but it was refreshing to be greeted so warmly.”
Chief Ashe’s initiatives in group violence intervention in Wilmington led to a 58 percent reduction in homicides and a nearly 30 percent reduction in shooting incidents, demonstrating a record of success in developing effective relationships at all levels of the organization. This outcome simultaneously increased homicide clearance rates form 12 percent to over 67 percent and reduced citizen complaints against police officers by 22 percent.
“We are really blessed to have someone with such a history and record of service in Chief Ashe,” Councilman Jason James said after Chief Ashe was sworn in.
Councilwoman Katrina Wilson agreed.
“I’m really thrilled to help bring the very first female chief for the city of Milford I’m excited about that,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “I just feel so she’s going to bring a new perspective and from interviewing, she was very, very excited and I think that that’s exactly what we need.”
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