Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Crime drops in Wilmington for another year

WPD reveals its 2021 crime statistics, showing a jump in larceny and decline in violence

Wilmington Police Department Chief Donny Williams reported that violent crimes are down in the community. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands)

WILMINGTON — Crime in Wilmington reached its second lowest point in a dozen years, according to Chief Donny Williams, who presented the Wilmington Police Department’s annual update at Tuesday’s city council meeting. Williams said the WPD responded to 159,000 calls last year, which equals roughly 300 to 400 every 24 hours.

Williams said the city’s crimes per population — Wilmington has 125,794 residents — has been nearly cut in half, down 41.6% since 2009 with 2,888 fewer incidences. There has been a progressive downward trend over the last decade, despite the population rising by 24%. 2020 remains the lowest year for crime — also the year Williams took office.

Last year the overall crime rate increased just 1.47% compared to 2020, with 59 more reported crimes. In 2021, there were 4,055 total offenses in the city.

Within Wilmington Housing Authority properties — including Creekwood South, Eastbrook, Vesta Village, Glover Plaza, Hillcrest, Houston Moore, Solomon Towers, Woodbridge and Rankin Terrace — crime fell 38% overall. Violent crime was down 43% in these areas and property crime decreased by 33%.

Stats Chief Williams reported do not include New Hanover County-owned facilities, parks and schools, New Hanover Regional Medical Center, N.C. State Ports Authority and UNCW. Williams clarified other law enforcement agencies handle those locations.

Below is a breakdown of the annual report. 

Violent crimes see drop, even as number of guns rise

Notably, violent crime dropped 17% in 2021 with 654 incidences versus 787 taking place in 2020. Compared to other North Carolina cities, which Williams did not call out by name, Wilmington is seeing lower accounts of homicide relative to the nationwide spike.

WPD investigated 13 homicide incidents in 2021, with a total of 15 victims. This is down six victims compared to 2020. Three of those cases remain unsolved. One was “a drug deal gone bad,” Williams said, and another involved a robbery downtown. Three were the result of domestic violence,another three were fatal assaults, and two were traffic-related.

Aside from two vehicular-related homicides, 22 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2021, up from 17 in 2020.

“For 16 of the 22, at least one party [involved] was suspected to be using alcohol or drugs,” Williams said. “And speed was a factor in six of the crashes.”

Three of the reported homicides were gang-related with five total victims, three of which were from a shooting at a house party on Kidder Street in May. Williams explained during WPD’s investigations of crimes it classifies cases as gang related when there appears to be a direct link between the crime and a gang network.

“A good way to explain that is, if I’m off duty in Myrtle Beach and someone tries to attack my lovely wife, and I have to shoot and kill them, that’s not police-involved shooting because I’m off duty,” he explained. “If I’m on duty and have to use my firearm while on duty, that’s police shooting. Gangs are the same way. Just because they’re in a gang and involved in an assault, doesn’t mean it’s a gang shooting. It has to have some direct nexus to the gang or gang activity.”

There has also been an influx in nationwide firearm assaults as the number of guns on the streets continues to rise. Williams explained the accessibility of firearms is greater nowadays, especially with the growing  “ghost guns” trend. This means people can purchase individual parts online to put the weapon together at home. Also, he said, residents are leaving guns unsecured and unattended in cars where they are more easily stolen. 

Last weekend, weapons were found in the hands of two juveniles –– ages 14 and 15 (fact check this) –– who were breaking into cars alongside a 23-year-old woman. When police say they caught the suspects in the act, they initiated a car chase on Carolina Beach Road, then hopped out of the vehicle and ran on foot.

Despite this widespread access to guns, WPD reported 98 fewer gun-violence victims in 2021. There were 91 incidents and 150 victims, compared to 134 reported firearm assaults  and 248 victims in 2020. A firearm assault, as defined by Williams, involves a shot being fired, but does not necessarily result in injury. 

WPD detects some gun-related crimes with the help of ShotSpotter, installed nearly a decade ago. This technology alerts WPD when shots are fired in certain areas of the city. It also alerts UNCW police, the 911 call center and “other authorized users.” Williams explained an alert does not always guarantee a gunshot took place.

“These activations can include fireworks, backfiring vehicles, construction noise and other noise-source indicators,” he said. 

In 2021, WPD saw a 3.6% decrease in ShotSpotter’s activation, with 1,409 total alerts, compared to 1,462 in 2020 and 723 in 2019.

At Tuesday’s meeting, councilmember Kevin Spears said when ShotSpotter was first initiated, it seemed to decrease crime in the community, but surmised now it seems like crime is up and people with guns are not as intimidated by the technology as they used to be.

“What you’re saying could potentially be spot-on, but I just think that there’s just an influx of guns nationwide,” Williams responded. “I get this daily publication from the Police Executive Research Forum, and it’s constantly talking about the number of guns that have just impacted our nation. And again, it’s not a Wilmington thing. It’s not a North Carolina thing. It’s nationwide.”

Additional violent crime stats:

  • Rape: 71 cases in 2020; 91 in 2021
  • Aggravated assault: 556 cases in 2020; 444 in 2021
  • Robbery: 138 cases in 2020; 104 in 2021 (lowest since 2009)

Property crimes increase as a result of ‘Covid bounce’

Overall, there were fewer property crimes in 2020, which Williams attributed to more businesses being closed and patrons staying home during the first year of the pandemic. As restrictions loosened, some of those numbers have increased, most notably larceny. Larceny crimes jumped 56.9%, which Williams called “a Covid bounce” due to shoplifting. There were 2,692 cases reported in 2021.

Due to the spike in larceny, overall property crime increased by 192 incidents to 3,401, up from 3,209 in 2020.

This was especially prevalent downtown where a large number of shuttered businesses reopened. In the central business district — from Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to the Isabel Holmes Bridge, the Cape Fear River and Third Street — occurrences jumped from 111 in 2020 to 168 in 2021.

Additional property crime stats:

  • Burglary: 576 cases in 2020; 470 in 2021 (lowest since 2009)
  • Motor vehicle theft: 200 cases in 2020; 228 in 2021
  • Arson: 26 cases in 2020; 11 in 2021

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