For many years (at least many of the years I’ve been in Wilmington), neighborhoods in Wilmington (certainly those neighborhoods under siege) have been clamoring for more WPD officers on the street. What was asked for was a Community Policing strategy — a deployment that would put officers on the street in neighborhoods, regularly patrolling and patrolling 24/7. Jim Baker was openly dismissive of this plan — even while he and his Police Chief used this plan to get City Council to authorize additional force strength and more equipment. Interestingly, the place that really did get 24/7 Community Policing was Downtown –the part of Wilmington where people weren’t being shot and not a major location of the drug business. Now we find that Mayor Williams is continuing in the Baker mode — actually expanding the number of uniformed officers who will be walking a beat — walking a beat! — in Downtown Wilmington:
In addition to the four officers and supervisor now assigned to the area, the city will add five officers during the day, and have five more patrol the area in the evening. All will address panhandling, loitering and disorderly conduct. Wilmington’s K-9 officers also will walk through Rodney Square and H.B. DuPont Plaza.
That’s 15 officers for one of the safer places in Wilmington. Expand out a few blocks to West Center City or the Eastside — where those residents and taxpayers are living with routine shootings, the kids on the corner selling who knows what, prostitution on the St. Peter’s Cathedral steps, people being beat up (and waiting 20 minutes for WPD and ambulance response) — and there are NO WPD officers walking a beat. That’s 15 officers to manage the panhandlers and the loitering Downtown — folks who are annoying, for sure, but who aren’t shooting people. Panhandlers and loitering that happens in every urban area in the US, and *this* (remember that there were 5 shootings in the City over the weekend) is their priority. Administration folks will tell you that they can’t arrest their way out of Wilmington’s problem, but it sure looks like that is what they will try to do downtown.
Continuing this Baker policy is really pretty stunning coming from a guy who told everyone that you wouldn’t even recognize Wilmington after two years (14 more months to go!). You can get rid of all of the panhandling in downtown and people will still fear for their safety in Wilmington — because the news is still filled with news of the persistent shootings and other bad behavior that no one wants to be exposed to. Especially the residents of this city — who are invested in living there, who pay property taxes and wage taxes and patronize city business. If the message from Mayor Williams is that the only people who deserve to be safe in Wilmington are those Downtown, then residents need to start asking for a refund on our taxes. Because residents are certainly not getting what we are paying for.
Wilmington needs its businesses, but it also needs its residents. It needs MORE residents — more people who will buy in the city, live in the city and pay taxes here. Why would anyone make that investment when it is really clear that the city won’t care whether you and yours are safe? The residents of Wilmington deserve just as much security as the workers downtown do. Mayor Williams sold a decent number of people on his competence in reducing crime in the city and it is well past time for him to deliver on that for ALL OF US. Because from where I sit, you can’t privilege the people who are here for 8 hours a day (and don’t bother to stop at Happy Hour) over the people who are invested and trying to make our communities work.