Monday, March 20, 2023

County to launch violence intervention department

New Hanover County has crafted an umbrella term for new initiatives, programs and positions approved under its nearly $40-million community violence intervention plan

The fifth floor of 320 Chestnut St. will undergo renovations to house the forthcoming “Port City United” department and a new call center. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY ⁠— Four days after shots were fired in the New Hanover High catwalk, local officials met in the board of education center to brainstorm solutions to combat a seeming uptick in violence among the youth.

Judge J. Corpening gave a presentation on a Durham County-based violence intervention program dubbed “Bull City United,” in which the health department hires well-known community members, sometimes ex-gang members, as “violence interrupters,” who intercede in conflict before it escalates to gunplay. He reported nearly 80% of people engaged in the program exhibited changes in gun behavior.

A board of impressed commissioners made a swift, unanimous decision to dip into a $350-million pot of money from the county-owned hospital sale to move forward on similar projects intended to curb violence. Afterward, an $89-million preliminary plan was constructed, including investments in school security. Then it was significantly refined, scaled back to a near $40 million, without physical changes to campuses, a focus on community-wide efforts and a range of alternative funding sources.

Those endeavors include a new call center with social media surveillance technology, school-based resource coordinators to help students and their families connect to services and its localized version of the Bull City United violence intervention program.

The three major initiatives will all fall under “Port City United,” a new county department. The coined name was recommended by a member of the community who participated in a feedback session to help develop the action plan. Over several months county leadership met with various nonprofits, law enforcement agencies and neighbors to identify underlying issues behind violence and what the community may need.

Port City United is expected to become operational sometime around April. New Hanover County announced the department’s creation Tuesday, explaining in a press release it will facilitate and implement several of the initiatives approved by the county commissioners.

“I am so proud of New Hanover County for taking action on this serious issue in our community,” commissioner Chair Julia Olson-Boseman said in a press release. “Port City United is desperately needed, as evidenced by the continual shootings and acts of violence we are seeing throughout Wilmington. More must be done. And this program and the people hired to make it a reality are an integral step in ensuring our youth and families get access to the resources they need in an equitable way, that conflicts can be resolved, violence can be stopped, and lives can be saved.”

Wilmington police reported its end-of-year stats Tuesday, which actually revealed a reduction in violent crimes. It was the second-lowest year for overall crime since 2009, with homicides down by 28.6% compared to 2020. There were 15 murders, six fewer than the year prior, and 91 shootings, 43 less than the year prior. Of those, three were gang-related (with five victims), one was drug-related and three were fatal assaults.

RELATED: Crime drops in Wilmington for another year

Despite the dropping statistics, Chief Donny Williams told city council Tuesday that nationally more guns are on the street and more gun crime is occurring. Anecdotally, law enforcement leaders have reported a string of “pandemic violence” caused by youth losing the security of schools and spending more time on the streets as well as an uptick in juveniles obtaining weapons.

In January, officials greenlit the $39.6-million, four-year community violence action plan, allocating around $3.6 million for the first year.

This year $372,873 will go to the violence interruption model. The county is slated to spend $2.6 million on the program by the end of the action plan.

The unit will consist of “trusted outreach workers and mediators” who intervene in disputes to prevent violence within neighborhoods, specifically qualified census tracts or low-income areas identified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The county is now hiring for multiple positions and is specifically interested in locals with some connection to violence.

The Port City United director will take home between $85,894 and $115,957 annually, and a data analyst could earn a salary of up to $71,188.

Three community mediation specialists will make up to $53,122. The job description states: “They will go into assigned areas to build relationships, assess risks, respond to violence, mediate conflict, and prevent retaliations.”

Three community outreach specialists, who would make up to $53,122, would “work with participants to create individualized plans that include goals.” That could mean helping them pursue education, such as a GED, obtain job skills training or employment, or receive help for substance abuse or mental health.

Secondly, a call center, Port City United Connect, will open 24/7 for people to report concerns. Operators, earning around $40,000 annually, will respond to calls and also monitor social media for looming threats.

It will cost $408,761 this fiscal year to set up the base and a little over $1 million in the subsequent three years for a total of $3.6 million. The supervisor will earn between $50,221 and $67,798.

Lastly, Port City United will partner with nonprofits to position 22 community resource coordinators in seven schools. With $5.5 million over the next few years, the coordinators will connect students and families with a range of services that aid in educational, nutritional, health and social needs.

The coordinators will be stationed in seven “impact-zone identified schools”: International School at Gregory, Snipes Academy of Art and Design, Forest Hills Global Elementary, Rachel Freeman School of Engineering, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy, Williston Middle School and New Hanover High School.

The action plan also allocates $886,000 this year to renovate the fourth floor of 320 Chestnut St., a county-owned building. The 5,100-square-foot space will house the new programs and positions; at an estimated $173 per square foot, the expenditure should cover the design of an open floor plan and new furniture and fixtures.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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