WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous has put an end to the question, "What is downtown Wilmington?"
For the purpose of crime statistics, the Wilmington Police Department will now consider downtown Wilmington as the area between Fifth Street to the Cape Fear River, and Castle Street to the Isabel Holmes Bridge, which is two blocks bigger than the previous boundaries outlined by the police department.
Lt. George Perkins heads up the downtown Wilmington task force. The force was created in July in an effort to get more patrols in the downtown business district.
Perkins says the WPD previously viewed downtown Wilmington as Third Street to the river and Castle Street to the Isabel Homes Bridge.
Evangelous announced the new boundary lines at an event open to the public on Tuesday night.
The public forum gave residents and city leaders the chance to discuss ways to "brand" downtown Wilmington. Leaders with Wilmington Downtown Incorporated and the Downtown Business Alliance hope to bring more people into the central business district.
"What drives the perception of downtown is the media," said Evangelous. "It's what they report and how they report it."
Evangelous says downtown Wilmington is safe and blames the media for the negative perception.
Just two weeks ago, WECT reported that investigators found 24-year-old Latricia Scott's body buried behind a home on Cowan Street. According to the new boundary lines, the home is located in downtown Wilmington. A convicted serial rapist is charged with Scott's murder.
"I hear a lot of times when I'm talking to business owners, when I am out on patrol, that when something happens outside the new boundaries, or even the old boundaries, that it was reported as downtown, when actually it wasn't downtown," said Perkins. "So, it gives that perception to the public, who doesn't come down here on a regular basis, that [crime] is routinely happening down here."
Perkins says despite now having a larger area to cover, he and his fellow officers will be able to handle it.
Chief Evangelous says he plans to call media outlets to talk about the new downtown boundaries.
Evangelous released numerous statistics regarding crime in downtown Wilmington.
A crime analyst examined crime reports over a ten year period using the new boundaries. Evangelous said those numbers show a decrease in crime.
In 1998, 1,152 crimes were reported in downtown Wilmington. Police then began to see a decrease in the numbers up until 2002.
In 2002, there were 1,143 crimes reported.
From 2002 to 2011, the police department saw a larger decrease in crimes, according to the new boundary lines.
In 2011, 418 crimes were reported downtown.
Evangelous also went on to say crime tends to increase around midnight and continues until 2 or 3 a.m.
Local business owners and businesses in the central business district want to see more foot traffic and hope the police department's change to boundaries will help with their initiative.
They also want to "better tell the story of downtown Wilmington."
Tuesday night was filled with much discussion on the problems prohibiting people from coming downtown. Those problems range anywhere from parking issues to marketing problems.
Many believe that social media and marketing concepts could help pull more people into the downtown business district.
Many residents voiced their opinion on how great the city of Wilmington is to live and work. They referenced unique restaurants and shops, along with historic landmarks and museums.
"People's perception of safety downtown, people's perception of cleanliness sometimes those things alter someone's perception of coming to a downtown community," said Jim Bitto, who heads the Downtown Business Alliance.
Leaders say this move is something business owners have been wanting for quite some time, but those who work and live in the area aren't sure it's the best decision because they know most of the crime issues are still just a few blocks away.
City leaders remain hopeful in finding ways to draw more people into downtown Wilmington. They hope to schedule more public forums to get input from residents, business owners and city leaders.
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