WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - An uptick in gun violence is not unique to our area, but it’s something the Wilmington Police Department has put a lot of effort into addressing.
As of Tuesday night, there’s still no word of any arrests after the Port City saw four shootings in four days, one of which killed a 19-year-old woman.
WPD first unveiled its gun violence reduction plan to city council on June 1. When it was presented, the chief said Wilmington saw its largest increase in shot spotter activations to date this year.
The plan includes a prevention, intervention and an enforcement phase. During the meeting, it was described as a long-term plan that also relies on non-profits, faith groups, schools and families to work in sync with police.
The plan, though, was presented the morning after protests first broke out at city hall and officers utilized tear gas to break up the crowds that spilled into the street.
Assistant Chief David Oyler says they’ve faced several obstacles since June 1.
“Chief Williams went to counsel to roll out a very aggressive gun enforcement program. Due to COVID and the civil unrest that we had to deal with back during the summer, we had to pull resources away from that and we haven’t been able to focus on that. We are now refocusing our efforts on that to try to deal with some of the violence that we had in the community,” said WPD Assistant Chief David Oyler.
Right now, they’re moving forward with the enforcement phase of the plan, re-focusing their manpower and resources to target violent offenders.
This phase of the plan also includes partnerships with the sheriff’s office, highway patrol and federal agencies and working with the district attorney’s office to prosecute those violent offenders more quickly. Leaders with the sheriff’s office say they work together pretty regularly to solve all kinds of crimes, not just gun violence.
“We have several task forces with WPD and that comes from the top down that we work together. We get things solved together, we work very well together. A lot of things that go on—it could be Azalea Festival, it could be crime, it could be other events..the president just coming—we all work together and it’s seamless,” said Lt. Jerry Brewer of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.
Next, WPD will move into what they call the community contact phase of the plan. That operation identifies people on the cusp of violence that may not know how to get out of the cycle of violence. Officers have resources lined up to stage an intervention and try to change the story for at-risk youth before its too late.
The secret weapon in this part of the plan is that faith leaders, non-profits, and families get involved.
“Community comes in to help us out. Community comes in and says, ‘we’re tired of the violence, we don’t wanna deal with anymore.' Community preaches that message to them and we as law enforcement come in and say, ‘If you keep going down this road, this is what’s gonna happen to you; we’re gonna do everything we can with all the resources we have to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,’” said Oyler.
The community-based mindset though isn’t completely new for the department; it’s the same message officers are trying to push out now that the recent shootings involved several teen victims.
City leaders are urging the community as a whole to come together and encourage anyone with information to submit an anonymous tip to police at tip708.com so they can prevent future shootings and get justice for the victims.