Wilmington mayor bolsters downtown police presence

 (Shirley Min/WHYY)

(Shirley Min/WHYY)

Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams is beefing up the police presence downtown, a bustling retail district generally considered a safe area of the city.

Williams says a recent shooting and an assault on a former marine who was running through downtown on a cross-country charity run had nothing to do with his decision.

“The business district is the lifeblood of any urban area. When your financial base is gone, you’re finished. Look at Camden, look at Trenton, look at Chester,” Williams said during a news conference this afternoon in Rodney Square, adding downtown businesses generate 70 percent of the city’s revenue.

Five police officers will be assigned to patrol the downtown area with five additional officers added to the mix at night.  Wilmington Police Chief Christine Dunning says the officers will be pulled from the department’s special units, like its detective division.

“All officers assigned to downtown will address what the mayor alluded to earlier, the panhandling, the loitering, the disorderly subjects, the public drunkenness,” Dunning said.

A number of homeless people and homeless advocates came to the mayor’s announcement to hear what the mayor had to say.

“I do agree, disorderly conduct has to be addressed,” Charles Johnson said. Johnson founded Homeless People are Real People, too, or HARP.

Johnson worries the mayor’s strategy unfairly targets the homeless who need help, not jail time.

“Let’s come to the table with a group that has some solutions and say, ‘This is what we can do,’ but not criminalize those that are homeless.”

“We do have a compassionate heart and we do realize that our people have bad times and have fallen upon us, such as the homeless individuals or veterans, we understand that; but, if you’re breaking the law downtown, we cannot tolerate that,” Chief Dunning said.

Meantime, with two shootings over two days in the city’s Ninth Ward Area, others say the city shouldnt be worried about some guy asking for a buck.

Despite the weekend violence, Mayor Williams says the crime rate has dropped in the city. Nonetheless, Williams says his officers continue to police crime hotspots throughout the city. And Williams pointed out that under his administration, there are more uniformed officers on the streets than under any other mayor.

“I was elected to make this city flourish and continue to operate in a positive direction, and I will do that even if it means losing a few supporters,” said the mayor.

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