The way Mark Farrall sees it, public service is just part of the family business.
His father, Kenneth, served more than a decade as fire chief for Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Company and later worked as Newark's fire marshal. His brother worked as a police officer and park ranger for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.
“Serving the community has just always been in my blood,” Farrall said. “I just love it. I love every part of this job.”
After 28 years as an officer with the Newark Police Department, the lifelong Newarker was selected last week as the department's next chief. He will take over for Paul Tiernan, who retired earlier this month after 15 years as chief.
“This community has been very good to me,” Farrall said. “It's a wonderful place to live and work. It's just important for me to give back to that community and keep this community a safe community and a place that people want to come.”
Farrall's ascension to chief is part of a succession plan that began in 2015 when he and Kevin Feeney were appointed to the newly created roles of deputy chief.
Tiernan, who worked in New Jersey before being hired as chief here, wanted the department's next leader to be an internal hire. Farrall and Feeney spent eight years being groomed to potentially take over as chief, and City Manager Tom Coleman chose Farrall to get the nod.
Farrall spent the last week moving into his new office and meeting with the command staff and groups of officers, promising a smooth transition.
“There's not going to be big shakeups,” he said. “Our department is already doing everything right.”
His main priorities as chief are to focus on officer recruitment and retention, as well as engaging with the community.
“I've always been very engaged in this community, and I'll continue to do that,” he said. “Because we have to know what our community wants and what our community expects of our officers and our agency.”
Growing up in Newark
Farrall grew up in the Old Newark neighborhood and recalled an idyllic childhood, hanging out with friends in Newark's parks and working a paper route.
“We had such a network of kids in the neighborhood. We knew where everybody's houses were and we spent all our time there,” he said.
He attended West Park Place Elementary, Shue-Medill Middle and The Independence School and graduated from Newark High in 1988.
He then attended the University of Delaware, where he majored in recreation and parks management.
Farrall said he knew he wanted a career in public safety and decided to pursue law enforcement rather than firefighting.
“My father is very well respected in the fire service. I didn't want to follow in his footsteps as far as the fire service because that was his thing,” he said. “I wanted to make my own name for myself.”
In 1993, he started working for DNREC's Natural Resources Police. Two years later, he left and got hired as a police officer for Newark.
When he started working for the city, his dad was still the fire marshal, though their duties didn't overlap much.
“The City of Newark has been phenomenal to me and my family, and I knew it was a great place to work,” he said. “It's just significantly impactful to work in the community where I was raised.”
Many officers choose to live elsewhere to avoid off-duty run-ins with people they've arrested, but Farrall has stayed in his hometown.
“There have been times over my career where I might be in the grocery store and I see somebody and I turn around and walk the other way,” he said. “But it's never been a major concern for me.”
Rising through the ranks
After joining the Newark Police Department, Farrall rose through the ranks and spent time in several of the department's specialized units.
Throughout his career, he has spent time as a patrol officer, a member of the traffic unit, leader of the street crimes unit, patrol sergeant, internal affairs, public information officer and deputy chief.
His favorite assignment, he said, was the traffic unit, which includes traffic enforcement, motorcycle patrol and crash reconstruction.
“I had a lot of fulfillment in being able to recreate what happened leading up to a fatal crash and hopefully provide some answers to families and be able to successfully prosecute if there was a prosecution involved,” he said.
Patrolling on motorcycle was “fantastic,” he said and led to a new hobby. He remains an avid motorcyclist, and has ridden his bike on trips to Colorado, Newfoundland and other destinations.
When Tiernan took over as chief in 2007, he tapped then-Sgt. Farrall to lead the newly created street crimes unit. The plainclothes unit was charged with conducting surveillance and proactive patrols to rein in a spree of street robberies that was plaguing the city.
The new squad made an arrest on their first night on the job, and over the years the street crime unit and other measures have reduced robberies in Newark by nearly 90 percent.
“It had a big impact on the community,” Farrall said. “We would hear from some of the people that we arrested and from the chatter amongst some of the criminals that they were staying out of Newark because there were undercover police officers everywhere.”
A rise in distrust of law enforcement
Farrall said one of the most challenging times of his career has been seeing the growing distrust of law enforcement due to incidents of police brutality elsewhere in the country.
“Quite frankly, some of the criticisms of law enforcement were very hurtful to our officers,” he said. “For me personally, knowing the character of our officers, it was very hard to see.”
He said he is proud of how his officers handled the protests in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. During several protests in Newark, NPD officers marched with the demonstrators.
“I was proud of the professionalism that our officers displayed when the profession was getting beat up,” he said. “But at the same time, our community wasn't beating us up. They were asking questions, but they were also thanking us for our commitment to them and to the community.”
He noted that NPD had already implemented many of the reforms sought by activists, including body cameras, a ban on chokeholds and creating a committee to review uses of force.
Another low point came in 2019 when Cpl. Pat Craig was seriously injured in a scuffle with a suspect. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and ultimately had to retire.
“That took a heavy toll on our officers, as did the recent assault on one of our officers,” Farrall said, referring to a December incident in the Suburban Plaza Acme. “That officer is still recovering from that and has some significant and severe injuries.”
Recruitment is the biggest challenge
When Farrall was applying to work for the Newark Police Department in 1995, he was among 300 applicants. For the department's most recent opening, there were only two applicants.
The dramatic decline in candidates – which Farrall attributes in large part to anti-police sentiments nationwide – poses a serious obstacle for NPD and other departments around the country.
NPD is currently recruiting for 15 positions, including eight existing vacancies and seven new positions that were authorized by city council late last year.
The vacancies have prompted NPD to temporarily disband many of its specialized units in order to ensure there are enough patrol officers on the street.
Farrall said his biggest priority as chief is to fill those vacancies as well as retain existing officers, who may seek higher-paid positions with the state police or federal agencies.
“We have quite the challenge ahead of us,” he said.
Last year, NPD started offering signing bonuses and working with a marketing firm to produce recruitment videos highlighting the department.
Right now, NPD has three officers in the police academy and recently hired a trained officer from New York, but there is still a long way to go, Farrall said.
“It's going to take us time,” he said. “I'm confident that we will continue to build our numbers, and hopefully get back up to our sworn strength.”
Over the past few years, NPD has faced criticism for its lack of diversity. In 2020, the department was 92 percent white, 4 percent Black and 4 percent Hispanic.
Since then, NPD has worked with the NAACP and made some progress, Farrall said. The last four officers hired are Black or Hispanic, and the department is now 14 percent minority.
“One of my goals is to continue to build on our diversity,” Farrall said. “The more diverse that we are, the better we are as an agency because we can see things from different perspectives.”
Combatting an increase in thefts
Serious crimes in Newark have decreased substantially over the past 15 years, but the city is dealing with a large increase in property crimes like motor vehicle thefts, thefts from cars and thefts of catalytic converters. According to data provided by NPD, thefts rose nearly 40 percent between 2020 and 2022.
“Groups of mostly young people in the middle of the night are just wandering the neighborhoods and pulling on doors,” Farrall said, noting that other jurisdictions are dealing with the same problem.
Officers have been doing more patrols of neighborhoods late at night.
“It's difficult, though, because we've got nine square miles of neighborhoods, and they'll see us coming and when we turn down the street, they can easily hide and wait until we leave,” Farrall said. “It's definitely a challenge.”
The opioid epidemic also fuels such crimes as people look for easy money to fund their addiction, he added.
While such property crimes are relatively minor, they can lead to a perception that crime is skyrocketing.
“It hits home when you have a package stolen off of your front porch, or you wake up in the morning and your car has been rifled through,” Farrall said. “That absolutely is concerning to us and it puts people at unease.”
When high-profile incidents do happen, like the brazen Thanksgiving armed carjacking at The Grove at Newark, it's important for officers to reassure the community, Farrall said.
“We can't stop everything from happening, but when it does happen, we can address it and investigate it thoroughly to make sure that we hold those accountable that are responsible,” he said, though no arrests have been announced in the carjacking.
Partying and underage drinking is always an issue in a college town, but Farrall said a series of new laws passed over the last couple years has helped NPD rein in large unruly gatherings.
“One of the things we work really hard to make sure is that we maintain a quality of life for all of our residents while not infringing on people's right to have a party and have a good time,” he said. “It's a delicate balance.”