As incidents of violent crime weigh heavily on Wilmington, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee will tonight hold one of several meetings scheduled through the end of the year. Councilman Michael Brown, Sr., chairs the committee and shared some of his thoughts on the city’s current situation and ways to reduce crime.
TSD: What do you hope to achieve at Monday night’s meeting?
MB: Our monthly meetings of the Public Safety Committee, and now the newly announced quarterly meetings of the Council Committee of the Whole, represent an ongoing and continual examination of the efforts underway by the Williams Administration and the Wilmington Police Department to reduce crime. We are especially concerned with the violent crime that is hurting and killing people at alarming rates in some neighborhoods in our city. We have got to stop this violence caused by the proliferation of guns and drugs. Council must be kept abreast by the Administration about how the police are working with the community to fight crime, how successful those efforts are, and what more can or should be done to reduce crime. Council Members also keep their ears to the ground to learn from citizens what is working and not working.
TSD: There has been a lot of back and forth – and even fairly tough bickering and criticism – between Council and the Mayor over public safety and policing strategies. What is the main difference of opinion and intention on fighting crime in Wilmington between Council and the Administration?
MB: When there are differences of opinion between the executive and legislative branches of government concerning crime, it is usually comes down to how well one side communicates with the other side and how the legislative branch views the executive branch’s efforts at using all of the public safety tools at its disposal to reduce crime and the use of guns to commit violent crime. I feel the Administration could do a much better job of communicating with Council so Council can in turn keep citizens informed when they ask questions about crime and public safety or express concerns about their safety and that of their families.
TSD: Does Council itself have a plan or alternative approach on fighting crime, and if so, when would that be presented?
MB: Legislative bodies certainly have opinions about how crime fighting should be carried out, and Council Members regularly share their ideas with the Administration as well as pass along to the police department any information received from the people in the streets that can help the police arrest the criminals. However, fighting crime is the responsibility of the Administration which, quite frankly, does not look too kindly on the Council when it suggests changes to the City’s crime-fighting strategy. Council will always offer its opinion and approve new police expenditures if they are needed to fight crime, but the City Charter and City Code make it quite clear that police services and crime reduction initiatives fall under the authority and responsibility of the Mayor and his appointed Police Chief.
TSD: What are some strategies that have worked in other cities that you’d like to see implemented here?
MB: Council is always open to looking at what is working in other cities to reduce crime. Many Council Members are especially grateful to the Governor and General Assembly for creating the Wilmington Public Safety Strategies Commission, which issued a report in late March listing 107 recommendations for improving the management and operations of the City police department and ways to reduce crime. I have embraced that report as Public Safety Chair because it is a public safety blueprint for us to follow. Our upcoming Public Safety Committee meetings and our special quarterly Committee of the Whole meetings will focus on those recommendations so we can review the commission findings with the Administration and hold the Administration accountable for adhering to the crime-fighting suggestions. The commission’s work focused on proper staffing, deployment of officers, increased use of technology and ongoing training for police officers.
TSD: Community policing produced some positive results but has apparently been reduced due to funding issues. Are there ways to reallocate resources to ensure that officers can continue to actively walk the beat in high-crime areas?
MB: Community policing has been very effective and is very much appreciated by citizens because they get to know their Community Policing officers and see them often in their neighborhoods. The Administration made a serious mistake earlier this year when it removed these officers from their community patrols and placed them into a special police unit called Operation Disrupt. It then disbanded Operation Disrupt, returned the officers to Community Policing assignments, only to pull them from the community again without seemingly any rhyme or reason. This haphazard reaction to crime shows poor management and planning, and it leaves Council and citizens will the impression that the City’s crime-fighting efforts are not being handled properly.
TSD: What are your views on more aggressive, significant collaboration – and even some degree of integration – with the New Castle County and State Police to more strategically address crime in Wilmington?
MB: I support a metropolitan policing plan for the City and County. I believe we should combine the City and County police agencies to produce a stronger, better managed and better coordinated policing strategy that would better serve the City and County. In the meantime, as Public Safety Chair, I favor continued joint police operations when necessary and having other police agencies assist the Wilmington police force when appropriate.
Below is the Public Safety Committee’s schedule for the remainder of 2015, though, a Council spokesman noted, it is subject to cancellation based on the amount of business to discuss:
Sept. 14 at 5 p.m.
Oct. 12 at 5 p.m.
Oct. 22 at 5 p.m. (Council Committee of the Whole)
Nov. 9 at 5 p.m.
Dec. 14 at 5 p.m.