Wednesday, June 29, 2022

With higher murder rate per capita than Charlotte, WPD and DA urge witnesses to come forward

Homicides are on the rise in Wilmington, with a murder rate higher than Charlotte and more than double Wilmington's rate in 2019 and 2018. (Port City Daily photo/File)
Homicides are on the rise in Wilmington, with a murder rate higher than Charlotte and more than double Wilmington’s rate in 2019 and 2018. (Port City Daily photo/File)

WILMINGTON — The City of Wilmington’s homicide rate so far this year is higher than the City of Charlotte’s last year.

Accounting for population, Wilmington’s homicide rate is 15.8 per every 100,000 people, compared to Charlotte’s rate of 11.6.

Related: Man shot and killed on Princess Place Drive, Wilmington’s 13th homicide this year

While the actual number of homicides in Charlotte last year (107) far exceed Wilmington’s, a per capita comparison can help put the frequency of deadly crime into context.

Last year, Charlotte’s homicide rate was the city’s highest since 2005, according to an analysis by the Charlotte Observer.

Wednesday, Wilmington Police Department officers responded to the city’s 20th homicide of the year, matching its 2017 total. A 20-year-old male, Nasir Leonard, died in the hospital from a gunshot wound. Five days earlier, police responded to a multiple-round ShotSpotter alert and found 22-year-old Quashon Demond Hardy deceased in the passenger side of a vehicle.

The city’s current homicide rate is more than twice its rate in 2019 and 2018 of 7.3 homicides per 100,000 people; police responded to nine total homicides each year.

In 2016, WPD’s homicide rate was nearly twice that of Charlotte’s, with 15 violent deaths. Then, former police chief Ralph Evangelous attributed half of the homicides to gang-related activity. The next year, the city had 20 homicides — its highest of the decade.

It is not clear at this point to what extent gang-related activity is to blame for this year’s spike in homicides.

A joint plea

Thursday, the Wilmington Police Department released a joint statement with District Attorney Ben David, urging witnesses to come forward.

Of the 20 homicides this year, six remain unsolved.

“I have one message for our community today: We have to stop the violence and we cannot do it alone,” Chief of Police Donny Williams said in a press release. “We know there are people out there who have information and we know there are people out there who are witnesses. We need you to come forward. Don’t leave justice in the hands of someone who’s going to continue this cycle of violence. Let our detectives do their jobs and get these perpetrators off the streets.”

WPD relies on alternative surveillance methods to respond to gun violence. ShotSpotter devices alert WPD when gunfire-like sounds are emitted, so police can respond to violence that may otherwise not get reported. Devices are strategically placed in areas considered to be prime gun-fire locations; however, WPD has declined to disclose the location of sensors in the past.

The department’s public plea for information offers a somewhat rare glimpse into recurring issues it encounters while attempting to solve crimes amid an atmosphere in which witnesses abide by a so-called code of silence out of fear of retaliation.

“To get justice in a courtroom, we need witnesses to come forward,” District Attorney Ben David said in the release. “Seeking retribution on the street creates a downward spiral that will only lead to more violence. We need the community’s help.”

When the department announced its 13th homicide of the year, its spokesperson said police leaders have typically declined to speak about homicide rates because any number of factors could cause them to go up or down.

“Any small piece of information could lead to an arrest, giving a grieving family the closure they need to heal and placing a violent offender behind bars,” the department urged in its release.

WPD asks witnesses to come forward; several anonymous methods are available to submit information:

  • Download the free Wilmington NC PD smartphone application and submit a tip through a secure chatbox
  • Text an anonymous tip to 847411 (tip411) by including the keyword WPDNC
  • Call New Hanover County Crime Stoppers at (910)-452-6127.

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