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Wilmington faith leaders present a plan to curb violence after recent rash of shootings

Frustration with gun violence in Wilmington is bubbling up again as the number of shooting victims so far this year now tops last year’s total. Some city religious leaders are calling for change.

City gun violence statistics peaked in 2017—but were down significantly last year. Wilmington police recorded 79 shooting victims in all of 2018. They have already recorded 80 shooting victims so far this year.

The Interdenominational Ministers Advocacy Council (IMAC) presented a plan to address the violence Wednesday in West Center City.  Members directed the plan to state, City and community leaders.

“Instead of allowing this crisis situation to continue to spiral out of control, we have chosen to take action on behalf of the city and its need for healing,” said IMAC President and pastor of New Calvary Baptist Church in Southbridge Vincent Oliver. Oliver tied Wilmington’s gun violence problem to poverty, unemployment, incarceration and drugs, among other issues.

Rev. Christopher Bullock of Canaan Baptist Church says IMAC’s “short term” plan recommends installation of functional security cameras in the neighborhoods. It also asks Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy consider a “redeployment plan” that would assign Wilmington Police officers to patrol areas in which they grew up or currently live. 

Wilmington Police say their crime strategies already encompass this suggestion. “We assign the same officers to patrol the same areas each time they report for duty, and they attend every community meeting,” said WPD spokesman David Karas, in an email. "These strategies have contributed significantly to the success we have seen over the past two years and the overall reductions in violent crime.”

IMAC’s “long term” recommendations include legislation to address illegal gun ownership and poverty. 

“These crimes, this misbehavior, juvenile delinquency—et cetera, et cetera—can be abated and cured if we had good jobs in the community,” said Bullock.

State Sen. Darius Brown said he and other legislators share IMAC’s goal of reducing gun violence in the City of Wilmington. 

“The best way to do that is look at how we can reduce poverty in the city by improving educational outcomes and connecting residents of the city to employment opportunities,” he said. “We look forward to legislation, policies and initiatives that will be adopted as we enter into our next session at Delaware General Assembly in January to address these issues.”

City Council President Hanifa Shabazz also attended the presentation. She says more conversation is needed to determine how IMAC’s requests could become reality. “I was here to listen,” she said. "I heard, and [am] looking forward to creating a plan of action."

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said last week in a statement that he is confident the City will bring the current increase in violent incidents under control. “When crime increases, it just causes us to double down even more,” he said.

City and state officials announced a Group Violence Intervention (GVI) initiative this summer to combat violence in the city. Former Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings leads the project at the Department of Health and Social Services— and attended IMAC’s presentation. 

“I think what they said here today is in line with GVI, and GVI is in line with a lot of things they want to do in the community,” he said. 

Cummings says the GVI team plans to do its first “call in” of individuals identified as at risk for violent crime in December. 


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.