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Murder rate up nearly 50% in Wilmington, consistent with national trends during pandemic

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At the Wilmington City Council Agenda Briefing, the Wilmington Police Department presented their annual Year End Crime Review--and the numbers reflect a strange year. On Tuesday, Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams addressed a significant increase in homicides in 2020.  

“Murders this year have increased significantly nationwide, many cities in this country and around the state have experienced these record numbers. These numbers have also impacted both large and rural communities.”

Williams says criminologists have given numerous theories behind the uptick--theories like idle hands during the pandemic, officers disengaged from communities in order to limit exposure, the mass release of offenders due to COVID concerns, redirecting police resources to managing protests, the nationwide shortage of police officers--the list goes on. Wilmington saw a record 22 homicides this year, up almost 50% from 2019. Chief Williams says the pandemic is a big part of the numbers rising, calling it a common denominator among cities like Asheville and Greensboro.

Following the presentation, council asked about other law enforcement issues. Councilmember Clifford Barnett brought attention to anonymity in reporting a crime tip to the police.

“Let's say that person goes to jail, goes to trial, will my anonymous report have to go to court?”

Here Chief Williams highlighted the department’s tip411 app, launched in October of 2020, which enables the public to share a tip with police in an anonymous two-way conversation.

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As Wilmington's population has grown, the relative criminal population has decreased.

“No, not if they go with the tip for one-on-one and we have no idea where it's coming from. We have a third party vendor that the information goes through and then the vendor sends it to us. And if they use the app, we again have no clue who's providing us the information.”

Councilmember Kevin Spears made a point to comment on the national movement to redirect funds away from police departments.

“And I know we were, we went through a phase last year of this whole defunding the police and, and I may be a surprise for some, I was against defunding the police and whatever it meant because you have some communities that are going to be directly affected by that. I just think we need to get on a positive side of, you know, let's see gaining resources for our community and for our Wilmington police department.”

It’s worth noting this was Chief Willaims’ first year on the job, after being unanimously appointed by city council in June of 2020 following 29 years at the Wilmington Police Department. As for looking ahead?  

“As far as going into 2021, I'm going to go into it with an open mind. I would just ask for our community to be patient and support our officers. Yes, there are people in law enforcement that do not need to be there, but every officer is not a bad person. And I say this: judge people by the color of their hearts.” 

For the complete archive of the agenda briefing and the crime report presentation, visit the online city council archives. The Wilmington Police Department's Year End Crime Review begins at 34:20.