On Wednesday night, 27-year-old Otis Saunders was gunned down in Wilmington, the city’s 15th homicide victim this year.
While police seek answers behind this latest death, the answer to this question continues to elude everyone: how to reduce the violence?
So far, Wilmington is on pace to eclipse the number of people killed in the last three years. Already in 2014, there have been five more homicides than in 2013, and Wilmington outranks 233 other cities when it comes to violent crime. In fact, Wilmington was recently bestowed the title of being the most dangerous small city in the country.
Murder and violence are not the type of message Wilmington’s “in” campaign was created to promote.
Fear not residents, new Wilmington Police Department Chief Bobby Cummings has a plan to help combat the violence: more boots on the street. Soon, residents will see more uniformed officers in six hot spots across the city, walking the community and hopefully creating a presence that combats the city’s sky-high crime rate.
This is a great first step, but in order to get residents to buy in to the policy, and not have it perceived as just another tactic, Cummings needs to have his men deployed for the long term. That means money, support and dedication, things that have been lacking for years in the bureaucratic lunacy of city government.
It’s not as if Cummings is going to get more police officers to work with. Cash-strapped Wilmington is only authorized to have 320 police officers, which doesn’t allow for “luxuries” like a homicide unit. In fact, the best the town could do was round-up retired cops to investigate the city’s many unsolved homicides.
Meanwhile, the shooter who released the bullets that claimed the life of 43-year-old Crystal Brown outside a convenience store walks free, and the city’s police, without leads or homicide detectives to track down the killer, are resigned to walk the street.
I hope it works. While more money and more cops (Cummings would like 370) might help, the WPD already accounts for about a quarter of the city’s budget, and the manpower of the police force itself, per capita, is on par with cities like Philadelphia and New York. Wilmington can’t count on the state or New Castle County, both a bit cash-strapped, to come riding into town on a Brink’s truck.
There are lots of ideas out there, and lots of case studies that city leaders should avail themselves of if they really want to roll up their sleeves and fight this epidemic. Maybe the political pressure exists now, although I hope it doesn’t take many more innocent deaths to see the city through to safer times.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe and be sure to check out his new serial cartoon for NewsWorks, It’s a Shore Thing.