What’s the best strategy for Wilmington’s violence issues?

 (Shirley Min/WHYY)

(Shirley Min/WHYY)

Despite several shootings in the last week, there has been some positives from Operation Disrupt.

Here is John Watson’s commentary:

It is safe to say that Wilmington has been a safer place since the implementation of “Operation Disrupt.”  The program began in late January putting 22 police teams in our most dangerous neighborhoods. Their mandate is “zero tolerance.”

They are on duty eight hours a day, six days a week, on foot or in cars looking for any way to clean our streets of people selling drugs or carrying guns. They’ll watch for lesser crimes like drinking beer on the sidewalk or disobeying some minor traffic laws.

That’s good policing, right?

To help them out they have “stealth” work by former convicts, hired to intervene before crimes are committed. It’s making a difference in helping make rough sections of the city safer.

Those items weren’t listed in the recently released Wilmington Public Safety Strategies Commission report.

The commission’s report focuses on how the Wilmington Police Department is dealing with the criminal element.  The commission urges the city to beef up its patrol teams and have at least 24 on shift at all times. It suggests “Operation Disrupt” fine-tune their patrols, reducing the 24 officers in the team to nine.

The consultants called this a Nine-Officer Community Stabilization Unit. They could be deployed where the high-tech analysts and supervisors tell them where to report.

The report goes on to say, the other officers now on “Operation Disrupt” could return to community policing or other special units. The commission also urges the city to empower community policing officers, whose mission is to foster friendly relations with residents, to make any calls directly to public works or other city department.

Now I don’t know about you, but all of this sounds like a lot of confusion on their part, which we don’t need, to help us better deal with the criminal element in our city. Our city. Not their city.

It’s no wonder that Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams didn’t show up for their meeting. His police chief was there. And now they are still arguing about it.

But it doesn’t matter.

The Mayor is fully involved in all of this. He has stated before that he welcomes input, but won’t let anyone else run his city. 

The city’s 22 officer “Operation Disrupt” teams work Tuesday through Sunday. Six members of the New Castle Police Force Mobile Enforcement Teams take over on Sunday nights. Disrupt teams don’t work on Monday’s, but city officers on overtime do extra foot patrols in those same targeted locations.

While 13 people were shot, there were only three fatal shootings in Wilmington since January 27th, and Chief Cummings said those homicides didn’t happen while “Operation Disrupt” patrols were on duty. Only two shootings, one of which the Mayor labeled as a “flesh wound” are said to have occurred in a targeted area when the disrupt team was on duty.

When “Operation Disrupt” began, Wilmington was close to eclipsing its 2013 record of 154 shootings and 29 homicides in 2010, but that’s not the case any more in spite of this being a very bloody year so far.

This is not to say the commission missed the boat all the way with its report and recommendations, and I’m sure Mayor Williams and Chief Cummings will make any corrections our Police Department needs.

Williams is already reported to have said that the Wilmington Police Department will not hire a deputy Chief of Operations. As the Mayor put it, “Why do they keep building hierarchy?” 

The 22 officers will not be replaced with a 9-person hot-spot unit. Consultants from The Police Foundation and Vigilant Resources International recommended both measures to Governor Markell’s Wilmington Public Safety Strategies Commission.

If you have any doubt about the strength of the Mayor and Police Chief to keep their promise to keep us safe, I know Mayor Williams and Chief Cummings don’t give up in serious fight.

If they did, they wouldn’t be where they are today. And they won’t allow Wilmington to ever really become “Murder Town USA”.


John Watson is a long time observer of Wilmington and Delaware from his perch as radio talkshow host. You can write him: JohnWatson1506@comcast.net


Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal