Against the backdrop of a hike in gang violence in multiple Wilmington neighborhoods, city council heard two presentations from police chief Ralph Evangelous at its Oct. 15 meeting.
One of the presentations preceded consideration of an ordinance to appropriate $142,381 from the city’s 2012 tax collections to WPD for the creation of a gang investigative unit, which will include one sergeant and four investigative officer positions. The ordinance passed unanimously on first reading.
Underscoring what he called a “sustained increase in gang violence,” Evangelous pointed to a 15 percent rise in violent crime throughout the past year as part of a national trend, seen more vividly in such cities as Chicago, which has been gaining recent nationwide attention for its increase in gang violence. The new unit, to become operational within four to six weeks, would be part of what Evangelous called the department’s long-term solution “to arrest and dismantle gang networks in the city.”
Evangelous explained that an additional position for an intelligence analyst will be included in next year’s budget. Current salary savings within the department from unfilled positions will be used to pay for up to ten over hire officers that will prevent the WPD from slipping below full staffing. While its staffing technically stands at 100 percent, the police department is still waiting for new hires to complete training before being able to assume their normal duties. The sergeant position will be transferred from an existing position, which will be replaced by a computer support specialist.
Evangelous’ presentation also focused on the successes of the department’s Mobile Field Force, which he credited with making 52 felony and 167 misdemeanor arrests since its inception earlier this year in June. It has also conducted 32 separate surveillance operations.
However, Evangelous made clear extra officers and enforcement would not alone curb the recent rise in gang activity. He emphasized that social measures need to be in place to ensure that prior offenders don’t simply fall into the same habits after their release from jail or prison.
“Within three years’ time, 60 percent of people released from jail go back,” he said. “Enforcement is only one small piece. Reentry into society is a big piece.”
Evangelous indicated two potential options in response to the pattern of rising violence and repeat offenders: either find ways to help people make the transition from incarceration back into society, or build more prisons.