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State lawmakers to Mayor Williams: stop ignoring crime plan

Delaware Public Media

Democratic legislators from around Wilmington are urging top city officials to fully embrace a proposed policing blueprint to help stem the high tide of violence seen in recent years.

The delegation wrote to Mayor Dennis Williams (D) Tuesday, saying he needs to better deploy police officers in targeted areas of the city in a sustainable way, upgrade technology and hold the department accountable for any lack of progress.

State officials funded a group of outside law enforcement consultants to draw up the plan alongside city activists and officials.

The letter warns if the recommendations were ignored, it “would further imperil the safety of Delawareans, both in Wilmington and outside the city limits.”

But several of those recommendations were ignored.

“Those recommendations have sat on a shelf for the last eight months, while city officials have called for more funding from the state,” the letter states.

Rep. James Johnson (D-New Castle), who helped write the letter, says it’s the city trying to assert their autonomy.

“I guess they feel that anytime the state puts demands on the city, it’s infringing on their authority," said Johnson. "But the bottom line is it’s all our responsibility.”

Johnson also sits on the Joint Finance Committee, which set aside $1.5 million to boost policing efforts in the city, but it comes with some strings attached. That caught the ire of the GOP who questioned its constitutionality.

Johnson says the recent JFC decision, coupled with a projected tight budget year makes it hard to foresee having any more cash to send to Delaware’s largest city.

“To say that we’re going to provide more funding for the city, you know, it would be a stretch because we’ve already taken a beating for what we’ve done so far.”

Wilmington City Council president Theo Gregory, who’s challenging Williams in the mayoral Democratic primary, issued a statement supporting the letter Wednesday.

Williams responded with his own letter Wednesday saying his administration has implemented 90 percent of the consultants’ plan, expanded the city’s homicide unit and added new technology.  He argued those moves and others are producing results.

“Increasing the size of the Homicide Unit and creating a Homicide/Violent Crime Unit has allowed for a comprehensive approach to investigating violent crime. In addition, the renewed emphasis on community policing has led to an increase in crime clearance rates and strengthened relationships between the police and the community," Williams letter read.

"Specifically, the department has produced a 50 percent clearance rate for homicide cases in 2015, compared to the department’s previous 12 to 16 percent clearance rates."

Williams also asked lawmakers to work with the city in a more cooperative manner and suggested that  Wilmington was being held to a different standard.

"The City of Dover has tripled their number of homicides from last year, which is the highest number the city has recorded since at least 1988. Yet the funding provided by the Joint Finance Committee to address Dover’s public safety issues contained no strings or stipulations," Williams wrote. "As fellow leaders representing the City, we should all work to ensure Wilmington receives the same commitment and cooperation as every other city or town throughout the State of Delaware."