New police chief talks about Wilmington’s crime image

 New Wilmington Chief of Police Robert Tracy (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

New Wilmington Chief of Police Robert Tracy (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Like Chicago, Wilmington has a reputation for violent crime, but the city’s new police chief said in both cities, the perception is not the reality.

Chief Bob Tracy officially started work at the Wilmington Police Department today. He most recently spent five years working in the Chicago Police Department, as chief for crime control strategies.

His experience draws comparisons between the two cities. In 2016, crime in Chicago became a hot topic in the presidential campaign as then-GOP candidate Donald Trump pointed to the Illinois city as an example of rampant violent crime.

In February, President Trump again held up Chicago as a dangerous place. “It’s worse than some of the places that we read about in the Middle East where you have wars going on,” Trump said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In 2016, Chicago saw more than 760 homicides. There were 21 people killed in Wilmington last year. Those numbers seem incomparable, but if you look at the rate of homicides per 100,000 residents, Wilmington’s rate is actually worse. Wilmington has 29.5 homicides per 100,000 residents, while Chicago’s rate is 28 homicides per 100,000.

While city leaders prefer Trump focus more energy on helping solve the problem, the perception of Chicago as “crime-ridden” is part of the national conversation. The same could be said of Wilmington’s perception, especially after the city was dubbed “Murdertown, USA” by Newsweek magazine in 2014.

But labeling a city with a broad brush like that isn’t fair said Chief Tracy. “It’s really smaller areas that are contributing to the perception,” Tracy said. He reviewed the Newsweek article and then looked at Wilmington’s crime numbers. “There’s concentrated areas that are having the violence, but it’s giving a bad name to the city as a whole. Same thing when I was in Chicago.”

Tracy said much of Chicago’s crime emanated from the same hot spots that collectively make up only 25 percent of the city. Albeit a minority percentage, the problems negatively impacted the perception of the whole city. “If we improve those areas, the perception’s going to follow, Tracy said.

Even if crime is reduced, Tracy warned that negative perception could linger. “Sometimes, even when crime goes down, perception takes a long time to follow.”

Mayor Mike Purzycki picked Tracy for the job in big part because of his focus on using analytics to respond to prevent crime.

“It’s certainly analytical, it’s strategic, and it’s creating accountability structures within the department that will keep performance at a high level,” Purzycki said. He was quick to point out that the selection of Tracy from outside the department over someone like former Chief Bobby Cummings, was not a repudiation of Cummings’ leadership. “Sometimes you just need change just to shake things up a little bit.”

Tracy said one of his first orders of business will be examining Wilmington’s crime statistics to see where he can build on some of the city’s successes and what can be done better.

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