Wilmington City Council votes in favor of law enforcement museum despite opposition from local groups

(Staff)
Published: Sep. 5, 2022 at 4:45 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2022 at 10:34 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The Wilmington Police Department plans to establish a law enforcement museum to showcase the history of the department with $40,000 in NC Drug Tax funding, but some local advocacy groups say the money would be better spent on supporting the community. The Wilmington City Council voted in favor of the ordinance on Tuesday, September 6.

“For years WPD has collected artifacts. The items are currently stored in a room away from employees and the public. WPD wants to proudly display these items and tell the history of our agency and our service to our community,” wrote City Manager Anthony Caudle in the proposal.

The New Hanover County Branch of the NC Second Chance Alliance, ACLU of North Carolina, New Hanover County NAACP and other groups signed a letter urging the council to vote no on the proposed ordinance.

In theory, a dealer can anonymously pay the tax via stamps, but very few actually buy these stamps. Instead, the letter explains, these are assessed and issued all at once after law enforcement discover substances. Over four thousand people in North Carolina are issued an average of $8,872 in back taxes each year under this law. These taxes sometimes remain even if a person is found to be not guilty or if charges are dropped, the letter states. Approximately $6.5-11.5 million each year is collected from the tax statewide, and local law enforcement collected over $500,000 in these taxes between 2016 and 2019.

The letter proposes that the funding instead be spent on local affordable housing, re-entry services, substance dependency prevention and treatment programs, and other community building efforts.

WHQR shared a response to the criticism from the WPD after the station published a story on the ordinance. The department argues that they have used the funds for many years. The department said the museum’s purpose would be to “bridge the gap between the police department and the community. . . Citizens frequently come to police headquarters as a result of a service need. We see this museum as a place for the public to visit with us in a manner that is not service driven.

The statement also highlights the learning opportunities that could be provided by the museum: “Our goal is for schools and civic groups to make this space an annual learning stop for them.”