WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Wilmington police announced Tuesday that crime rates in the Port City are at their lowest levels in nearly a quarter century.
During a 3 p.m. news conference, Police Chief Ralph Evangelous revealed that there was 5,396 part 1 crimes reported in 2016. The fewest since 1993 when 6,878 were reported.
Part 1 crimes are classified as violent or property-related crimes. They include aggravated assault, rape, murder, robbery, arson, burglary, larceny/theft, and motor vehicle theft.
"We believe these historic lows are due in part to the hard work of the men and women of the Wilmington Police Department and you - our citizens," Evangelous said. "You call 911 and report crime when you see it and for that, we remain grateful."
While the overall part 1 crime numbers are at historic lows, the number of murders in 2016 increased slightly. Fifteen murders were reported in Wilmington in 2016 compared to 12 in 2015.
Evangelous said 10 of those murders in 2016 were committed with a gun while 8 were gang-related.
"We must continue to address gun violence and the gang culture that continues to affect our community," Evangelous explained.
Another issue Evangelous wants his department to address: the opioid epidemic.
"Gangs and the opioid plague we are seeing in our community are driving our crime numbers," Evangelous said. "Heroin is being driven by a lot of our gangs and we are going to continue to focus on that. We're focusing on it hard."
It's not just heroin, it's also prescription painkillers. Evangelous said there needs to be a focus on the users and getting them treatment. if they don't want to be treated, they should be involuntarily committed, he said.
"We can't arrest the problem away. We gotta do something different that what we're doing presently because what we're doing is not working," Evangelous said. "We gotta focus on these [opiod] users. That's what's driving property crime. That's who's breaking into your cars, breaking into your houses and businesses. That's driving that crime."
Wilmington police have worked with hotels and motels, specifically those on Market Street, and have seen a marked reduction of crime coming from those establishments.
"All these pieces of the puzzle are coming together are having an impact. It's not happening overnight, but over the months and years we are seeing a continuous decrease in crime and better quality of life for our citizens," said Evangelous.