NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – Police officers and sheriff's deputies are joining forces for a combined effort against gang violence in New Hanover County.
Local leaders announced Monday that 32 members of each agency would form an additional patrol unit to monitor the streets of the Port City around the clock. Chief of Wilmington Police Ralph Evangelous said the recent surge in gang violence has everyone increasing their collaboration efforts.
"Our priority is safety in the streets, safety in neighborhoods and safety in peoples' homes," said Evangelous.
Along with the new patrol partnership, WPD's housing unit will double in size. The seven new members come from the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office. Officer Jonathan Poplin, already a member of the housing unit, stressed earlier this month how important it is for witnesses to speak up when they know about crimes, like a shooting.
"The bullets don't care where they go," he said. "If they come through your house and kill your kid...you're going to want someone to be snitching."
District Attorney Ben David said at Monday's conference that the partnership between the two agencies is only half of the fight against gang violence. He said families and neighbors need to stop worrying about sharing information with investigators.
"What people are really doing by not snitching is taking the guy on the corner terrorizing his own neighborhood over his own grandmother," said David.
Both Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and Woody White, the Chair of New Hanover County's Board of Commissioners expressed a full support of the newly formed partnership against gang violence. After the press conference, however, White said the sheriff's new project does not come with an additional price tag.
"He has room within his budget to do this," said White.
The chairman said the sheriff should have money in his current budget to handle unplanned expenses, and commissioners could consider recommendations for next year's budget.
Wilmington City Council will consider a $140,000 grant for an additional gang investigation unit for WPD at their next meeting.
Before the press conference started Monday, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office said questions would have to stay on topic about the announcement and not be too specific about a recent deputy-involved shooting that left one man dead.
After the announcement, Sheriff Ed McMahon said investigators pleaded with Brandon Smith's family to help him turn himself in for arrest. A search for Smith started Thursday and ended on Sunday when he fled into a wooded area near Castle Hayne. Shots were fired and Smith did not survive, according to the sheriff's office.
Smith's sister said that officers acted too quickly when they opened fire.
More details about the incident will have to come from the State Bureau of Investigation, according to McMahon.
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