Wilmington police chief calling for stronger enforcement of gun crimes

Sean Greene Via WDEL

Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy saw the number of gun arrests and murders rise in 2020, and he said he wants to try to get those weapons off of his streets.

"Carrying firearms and being a victim, they're a victim one day, and they're a gun carrier the next and vice versa. We have to get serious if we're going to continue to talk about the shootings and the murders."

According to statistics announced at Monday's Wilmington City Council Public

Safety Committee meeting, Wilmington had 31 murders, with 29 via gunshot, compared to 23 in 2019.

There were 307 gun arrests, with an 85% rise from 171 gun arrests in 2019.

Chief Tracy said all of this is stemming from a relatively small part of the roughly 100,000 interactions his officers make with the public each year.

"Two to three percent of our arrests are firearm arrests, illegal possession of a firearm. Carrying an illegal firearm is a gateway crime to murder. I think we have to get tough and serious about people who are willing to pick up a gun, and willing to pick up a gun and shoot at people. I've done it at other places, and when we got serious about that, shootings went down, gun possession went down, and incarcerations went down. It was safer in those areas."

Tracy said he wasn't just worried about the guns, but the ages of those being willing to use them.

Tracy said of the 293 defendants charged with a gun crime in 2019, 50 were juveniles, including 20 who had a prior gun arrest, and one who was 12 years old.

"There's a lot of things we can do. We can be compassionate about helping them, but releasing individuals right back into the community when they are carrying an illegal firearm is not going to solve the issue. We have to get them the help, make sure there is rehabilitation, and sometimes with the adults, consequence."

Tracy said he was concerned about the bail system, which saw 60% of those charged with a gun crime released, two of whom were eventually the victims of murders.

Wilmington's statistics show that 15 people arrested for gun crimes had no bail set while 53 were on unsecured bail, 77 on secured bail, and 155 on cash-only bail. Tracy said that's a sign that everyone in the criminal justice system needs to work together to make things safer.

"We have a thoughtful way of working with our prosecutors, working with the judicial system, to insure that we have to look at these things seriously. The thing on the street -- this is not anecdotal, it's been told to us -- that there is no penalty for carrying an illegal firearm."

Wilmington has already had a challenging start to 2021, with one murder and nine shooting incidents, but those numbers are down from three and 10 at this point in 2020.

Tracy was also asked when Wilmington's body camera system would be put into place. He said money and funding is still rolling in and did not want to commit to a time, saying that acquiring the devices, and then educating the officers on using them, would take an undetermined amount of time.

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