WPD chief: Additonal detectives, youth violence prevention will curb violence, solve cases

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It’s a matter a triage for the more than 20 detectives working to solve crimes in the city, according to Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous, who hopes eight additional detective positions in the city’s recommended budget will help the police department better serve the community.

Included in Wilmington’s recommended $144 million budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year is $28.2 million for the police department, which is an increase of 4.9 percent from the current year for the police department’s core services, including the mobile field force, the gang unit and eight additional detectives.

If the budget is approved as recommended, detectives will be selected from existing ranks and new officers will be hired to replace them, Evangelous said. The request for additional detectives was part of a “best practice workload study” conducted in 2014, which showed the police department needed to add eight detectives improve case management.

“A lot of [cases] aren’t being followed up in a timely manner,” Evangelous said. “So people get frustrated. And I don’t blame them. So hopefully…we’ll be able to follow up with these crimes in a more timely manner.”

The police department has 26 detectives working violent crimes, juvenile crimes and property fraud. With the additional detectives, every section of the detective division would get the help needed to handle citywide cases, Evangelous said.

“They all need support,” Evangelous said. “Clearly violent crimes need some additional personnel so we can work some of these older murder cases that still have not been finished up. And then property crimes…there’s a lot of volume there.”

Evangelous said he hopes the additional detectives will also enable the police department put together a cold case team.

“It’s a matter of triage in these cases. There are a handful of them that are solvable–that we feel that we can solve–and really potentially file some charges on. But it requires a lot of work and…when other murders come in or attempted murders, they take precedent over prior cases,” Evangelous said.

Evangelous said detectives would be able to balance cases more effectively–with the ability to work a case from beginning to end–if they have the support they need.

“It’s not easy. It’s frustrating for [the detectives.] It really is. And for victims and victims’ families, they deserve better,” Evangelous said. “It’s different if…we have exhausted every single lead [and] there’s not much we can do with a case. But that’s not the case in some of these murders. There are potential leads that we really need to work through and run down and this is going to give us that opportunity to do that.”

Expanding youth programs

The police department is looking into new ways to reach area youth by expanding its Police Athletic League (PAL) program, Evangelous said. An additional $30,000 in funding is in the recommended budget for several community initiatives and violence prevention programs, which includes the Police Athletic League, according to city spokeswoman Malissa Talbert.

The Police Athletic League is an athletic-based program designed to connect police officers with youth in their community by engaging boys and girls in positive activities that improve quality of life, present developmental opportunities and offer the prospect of a brighter future, according to the police department’s website.

Evangelous hopes to add a tennis and wrestling component to the program to offer more healthy alternatives to area youth and continue to interaction between the kids and officers. The program has offered a basketball league for children and teens in an effort to prevent gang recruitment and juvenile crimes. The PAL Hoops program, along with the police department’s midnight basketball, has been successful in getting kids off the streets, Evangleous said.

“It’s pretty amazing. When we run midnight basketball, and we will have sometimes 75 to 150 kids at the gym,” Evangelous said. “Our [police] activity level decreases during that time. So there is a correlation there…we know that getting these kids off the streets corners or off the streets and into some healthy environment–a structured environment–with good adult supervision does make a difference.”

Evangelous said some of the violence in the city is attributed to kids in their early to mid-teens.

“I think it is important to try and save some of these kids. Especially some of the ones who have…kind of slipped off the edge and gone into a world of criminality,” Evangelous said. “So that’s a big part of what we’re doing because…we need to continue to try to reach out to them.”

Wilmington  City Council is set formally adopt the budget during its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 16 at Wilmington City Hall. To view the entire recommended 2015-2016 budget, click here.

Christina Haley is a crime and courts reporter for Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6337 or christina.h@portcitydaily.com.