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Gun violence in Wilmington rose again in 2020

Sophia Schmidt
Delaware Public Media

The City of Wilmington’s gun violence problem is not going away. Last year, it got worse. 

Even as overall crime decreased, the number of shootings in the City of Wilmington increased more than 50 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. The number of victims went up by about the same amount — with a total of 168 Wilmingtonians shot by the end of the year. 

City officials say 29 people died in Wilmington as a result of gun violence last year, in addition to two stabbing deaths, a 35 percent increase over 2019.

“We cannot continue to kid ourselves —Wilmington simply has too much gun-related violence based on the size of our population,” Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a statement about the 2020 statistics Monday.

Overall gun violence in Wilmington peaked in 2017. It dropped significantly in 2018, but has been creeping up again ever since. The overall number of shooting incidents and victims last year remained below the highs in 2017, but the number of juvenile shooting incidents and victims in 2020 surpassed even that peak year.

Gun violence surged across the country in 2020. Non-suicide gun deaths were up more than 25 percent nationwide in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the research group Gun Violence Archive

Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy told Wilmington City Council members during a committee meeting Monday he thinks the violence continues because perpetrators don’t see consequences. 

The Wilmington Police Department says it made record gun arrests in 2020, with a total of 307 arrests of 293 suspects. Wilmington police arrested 13 of these people on gun charges more than once in 2020. 

But Tracy says many of those arrested were later released. He says 15 of the 2020 gun arrests resulted in release without bail set, 53 had unsecured bail, 77 had secure bail, and 155 resulted in detention with cash-only bail. Wilmington police report that by the end of the year, 124 of the 293 defendants—or 42 percent—remained incarcerated. 

“What we’re doing is trying to make sure that we have a thoughtful way of working with our prosecutors, working with our judicial system,” Tracy said. “We have to take these things seriously.”

Tracy also blamed the coronavirus pandemic for straining social services and the police department’s ability to attend community meetings.  

But members of the public pleaded with Tracy during Monday’s committee meeting to listen to residents who speak out through protests. 

Keandra McDole, whose brother was killed by Wilmington police in 2015, said police need to work harder to gain the community’s trust—and need to trust the community. 

“What the community is saying is, where have y’all been?” McDole said. “Where’s the compassion from y’all for what’s taking place in our communities?… Why can’t police get out of their cars while in our neighborhoods?”

Last year, citizen complaints against Wilmington police hit their lowest level in at least four years, according to the Department. Calls for service were also the lowest they’ve been since 2016, and the clearance rate for murders dropped to 40 percent, down from 67 percent in 2019.

So far this year, gun violence in Wilmington shows no sign of slowing.

In the first month of 2021, there have been nine shooting incidents, the same as by this time last year, and 12 shooting victims, an increase of 33 percent compared to this time last year.

“What’s alarming, after setting a record last year, we’re up 10 percent recovering guns already in the month of January,” Tracy said.

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said the City needs to focus on fixing the “underlying social ills” that contribute to gun violence. 

“Until we find consensus on these strategies—which invariably involve the sensitive issue of race—we are left with turning to law enforcement to reduce violent crime,” he said in his statement Monday.

Purzycki also called for better gun laws and continued “community-supported law enforcement.”


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.
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