Wilmington police halt blue cruise lights experiment, now polling residents

Wilmington Police Department halted their blue cruise lights program in order to get community feedback. (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON – Have you noticed police officers cruising around with their blue lights on? Did it cause you to double check your speedometer, make you feel safer, or did the lights in your rear view throw you off?

RELATED: Driving in Wilmington and seeing blue? It’s not just you

For more than 30 days, police officers patrolled Wilmington with a low-power, non-flashing blue glow on each corner of their car’s rooftop bar. By keeping these lights on, the department was experimenting with the idea that increased visibility could lead to fewer crimes. 

Early on in the program, residents were mostly providing positive feedback on the blue lights. Although, Capt. Rodney Dawson told reporters it had confused some people who thought they were getting pulled over or a crime was going on.

All officers driving in marked patrol cars were directed to keep the lights on during patrol, unless they had a “compelling reason” to turn them off, such as pulling someone over, according to a WPD spokesperson.

By letting drivers and passersby know officers were in their area, the initiative was expected to deter crime – hence, leading to overall increased safety in the community. It also aimed to help residents easily locate an officer when in need of assistance.

Tuesday, the department suspended the program to start collecting feedback from the community.

On the Wilmington Police Department website, residents are able to offer their input. The three-question survey asks if residents have seen patrol vehicles traveling with their blue cruise lights on; if they think having the cruise lights on while patrolling has led them to notice WPD vehicles more often; and if they think the cruise lights helped increase police visibility and deter crime.

Within 10 minutes of going online, all answers were supportive of program. As of 11 a.m. the survey had 34 respondents, all of which answered “yes” to all three questions.

The survey is only open to Wilmington residents. The day after the survey closes, the department plans to release a summary of the results.

“We want the community to become more involved in our policing, and this is the perfect opportunity for that,” Chief Donny Williams said. “I encourage all Wilmington residents to please take a minute to answer these questions and let us know your thoughts.”

The blue lights initiative is not unique to WPD. Multiple safety agencies across the nation have adopted the change within the last year, including Lincolnton, N.C.’s police department.

The experiment came at a time when violent crime is on the rise in the U.S. WPD reported 780 violent offenses in 2020, 34 more than the year prior. It was a record year for homicides, with 22 murders total, on-trend with high homicide rates nationally. Chief Williams said in January the pandemic is likely the root cause of the uptick.

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