Is a “special crime unit” needed in Wilmington?

Police Chief Ralph Evangelous and City Manager Sterling Cheatham want to create a “special force of police officers and plainclothes investigators to combat crime across the city,” according to a StarNews report by Julian March. (link) The proposed new “Mobile Field Force” will presumably “allay fears and reduce crime” in Wilmington.

City taxpayers, who will initially pay $450,000 to hire five officers and buy eleven more police vehicles, should demand that city council members determine the realistic benefits and reveal the future cost that would justify this new police venture. Mr. Cheatham says that this project will “fight a disturbing problem.” Mayor Saffo said “the city should spend the money.” Are these good enough reasons?

The idea is to “target repeat offenders and groups of ‘roving criminals.'” Why can’t the police give high priority attention to this “disturbing problem” with existing forces? Why is the city police force not up to the job?

Very likely, street officers know “repeat” criminals and where they hang out. In two recent murder cases they quickly apprehended the predators.

Mr. Cheatham says the criminal activity is “not confined to one particular area.” However, reports show that most violent crimes occur in Old Downtown–602 last year, down from 656 in 2011 and 725 in 2010, according to the StarNews report. Why are more police and equipment needed when violent crime is decreasing?

Why do they additionally want two teams of 12-members with vehicles to “reduce crime and be visible to residents? This implies that they aren’t now “visible”–not surprising because most of us never see officers unless we’re given a citation for some traffic infraction. Citizens are aware of police in cars and aircraft, but rarely on the streets.

Chief Evangelous knows that foot-patrols in neighborhoods is the best crime deterrent. With one new vehicle for each team member it’s unlikely police will be walking beats in high crime areas–or anywhere else.

Targeting “roving predators” is a good idea, but city council members should be convinced that the current force can’t do the job. All residents need to know why more cars driving around the entire city will prevent criminal activity and apprehend the predators before they commit violent crimes.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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