2020 was a record low year for Wilmington crime, despite high homicide rate

Wilmington police reported decreasing crimes for another year, but its homicide rate in 2020 was alarming. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON – Although homicides were notably higher than normal in 2020, it was still a record low year for crime in Wilmington.

In a year-end presentation to city council Tuesday morning, Wilmington Police Department Chief Donny Williams shared internal statistics that show Part I crimes have reduced by 54.2% since 2002, despite the population more than doubling in that time.

Part I crime, as defined by the FBI, includes murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson.


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Property crimes were down by 319 compared to 2019; there were 162 fewer burglaries, 112 fewer larcenies and 53 fewer motor vehicle thefts.

Williams told council members he attributes some of the low numbers to the pandemic ceasing nightlife.

However, 2020 was still a more violent year for the city. WPD reported 780 violent offenses, 34 more than in 2019. Robberies increased from 123 to 138, and aggravated assaults rose from 541 to 550. There were 70 reported rapes, the same number as 2019.

There were 22 murders in Wilmington last year, up from 12 in 2019. Of the 22, four were officially linked to gang activity. Those are only cases in which there was some type of gang-related motive, such as a dispute, for the murder. It cannot solely be based on whether the individuals were affiliated with gangs, Williams explained.

Eight of the murders were related to drugs or other illegal activity. There was one domestic-violence homicide and four fatal assaults, including two deaths of elderly dementia patients following altercations at nursing homes.

Five homicide cases from last year are still unsolved. Williams said police are close to resolving one and hopes to make an announcement soon.

WPD’s clearance rate for homicides in 2020 was approximately 78%, above the national average of 63%. Williams credits this to assistance from the public and department resources.

“If you give them a breadcrumb, they will follow it,” Williams said of his detectives. “They do an outstanding job.”

He assured the department is equipped to handle the number of homicides that occurred, although, he said, it was a struggle. As the city continues to grow, the chief said, it needs to consider adding resources to the police department.

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The high number of homicides was a national trend in 2020. Williams said criminologists have come up with numerous theories for the rise, including police resources being redirected to protests, a nationwide shortage of officers and more. But Williams believes the pandemic is the root cause.

“That’s the only one factor that has impacted everybody at the national level,” Williams said. “If it was unique to Wilmington, that would be one thing, but you have it with . . . Asheville, you have it with Greensboro and the list goes on of just the local departments around us that have experienced this.”

Residents with pertinent information are urged to help police solve crimes through its reporting systems. Witnesses can call the Wilmington Police Department at 910-343-3609 or submit anonymous tips through the Wilmington NC PD app and or by texting 847411 (tip411) and including the keyword WPDNC.

Williams confirmed police will have no clue who sent the information through the third-party app.

“I would much rather have the information anonymously than not have it at all,” he said.


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