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Public safety takes center stage in Wilmington mayoral debate

Megan Pauly/Delaware Public Media
There was a large crowd Thursday night at the Grand Opera House for a public safety-themed debate between Wilmington mayoral candidates.

Wilmington mayoral candidates faced off in another debate last night, with the focus on public safety.

Personal barbs were traded and tensions flared over age and experience, qualifications and gender.

But the real meat of the debate was a discussion of policing philosophies and police training in light of the Jeremy McDole case. Wilmington City Council President Theo Gregory- former federal prosecutor - said the federal government should have been involved in reviewing the case early on.

There was talk about integration – and even possible consolidation - of police forces across the city and county and state departments, as well as community policing efforts.

Former City Council president Norm Griffiths said he’s hesitant to completely consolidate policing efforts. Former councilman Kevin Kelley countered that city and state lines shouldn’t matter, and called for consolidated initiatives to address crime, drugs, and gangs.

“We can’t let an imaginary line that separates the city from the county stop us from being able to go after someone and help apprehend someone," Kelley said. "We need to work collectively together, share resources and data with the common goal that we’re going to work together to solve this crime problem because it not only impacts the city but the whole state.”

All candidates agreed about the importance of community policing, including current City Council member Maria Cabrera: who emphasized the importance not only of this philosophy, but the consistency of officers staying in the same communities to truly get to know the residents and the community’s needs.

“But it’s gotta be more about policing and locking people up. It’s about building those relationships," Cabrera said. "And if you stay in the same neighborhood and you're on a first name basis with the neighbors, you're going to see more cooperation. But not just that, you're going to know who doesn't belong in that neighborhood."

Other big topics of the evening included prison re-entry, and jobs. The debate opened with a question about how best to help individuals leaving prison and re-entering into the community succeed.

Delaware Center for Justice advocacy director Eugene Young emphasized the need for better communication and outreach to individuals leaving prison so that they realize that programs to help them exist.

“What we’re going to do is have a reentry coordinator that’s going to actually help make sure that we connect the dots between the Delaware Center for Justices out there, the Delaware Center for Relational Living, the Hope Commission...there are a variety of organizations out there but people don’t know," he said. "Especially when you come out of prison you don’t have a dollar to your name, you don’t have a place to go...the last thing you’re trying to think about is all of these different reentry navigators to find. We need to meet people where they’re at and give them an opportunity to move forward.”

He also emphasized helping juveniles get expungements for crimes that are holding them back from getting jobs.

Riverfront Development Corporation chief Mike Purzycki agreed, but adds job creation is also necessary to keep kids out of crime to begin with.

“The key to it all is finding employment for large sectors of our city where joblessness is the norm. And we keep ignoring this as if we can work around it," Purzycki said. "You can’t patch around 50% of men in different age cohorts being unemployed: it’s impossible. You can’t - you can’t help kids who go home to a home where no one is working.”  

City Councilwoman Maria Cabrera attacked Purzycki over what she says is a “lack of diversity” in those employed at Wilmington Waterfront venues, but Purzycki countered saying Cabrera just “wasn’t going to the right restaurants.”

State Sen. Robert Marshall added he thinks a trade school could help create jobs - including for those coming out of prison.

The next debate on city development and the arts will be held June 14th.

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