Homicides decline dramatically in Delaware's biggest city; police credit arrests, not gun control

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Last year Wilmington, Delaware set a new record for homicides with 39 murders. This year, however, homicides and not-fatal shootings have declined dramatically. So far there have been just eight homicides in the city in 2022, and after posting a higher per-capital homicide rate than both Philadelphia and Baltimore last year, Wilmington’s homicide rate is now below both cities.

While Delaware Gov. John Carney signed two gun control bills into law last year, including a ban on so-called ghost guns, Wilmington’s police chief didn’t mention the new gun laws when he was asked about the turnaround in the city’s crime stats. Instead, he credited arrests of violent offenders, as well as another bill enshrined into law last year that makes it easier to hold those suspected of violent crimes behind bars until their case comes to trial.

Police Chief Robert Tracy said that while he is painfully aware that every shooting is a traumatic event and a threat to neighborhoods, he’s gratified that the number of people killed and wounded is on the decline so far this year.

While Tracy knows it’s too early to declare victory, he’s optimistic for a number of reasons as the coronavirus pandemic ebbs. Among them, he says:

  • Police are again able to attend community meetings in-person rather than over Zoom, which can help them to better re-establish or build trust with the residents of blocks where violence has been rampant.
  • A new law that makes it tougher for people arrested on gun crimes to post bail was passed in 2021.
  • The arrests of more than three dozen members of two gangs, NorthPak and MGS (M-Block Grimey Savages), on gun and other charges. Several were charged with murders and other shootings.
  • The resumption of the Group Violence Intervention program, which began with great fanfare in 2019 but languished once the pandemic began. The program offers drug dealers and gang members job training and social services as an alternative to intensive investigation and arrest.
  • A gun crime task force that includes the chief, mayor, attorney general, and U.S. attorney. Members focus on every firearm arrest and follow the defendant through the criminal justice system.
  • Data-driven policing that aims to prevent retaliatory shootings by visiting the victims’ families and associates.

“We’re getting in front of things,’’ Tracy said.

In other words, it’s nuts-and-bolts policing that is turning the tide in Wilmington, not any new laws aimed at restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens. Additionally, Wilmington is offering both carrots and sticks to violent offenders; programs like the Group Violence Intervention effort that offers a chance for participants to turn their lives around, but delivering legal consequences if they continue their law-breaking ways.

“The message we’re giving is to all the groups together, really, we’re telling them, from this day on, we’re asking you to put the guns down,’’ Tracy said. “We care about you. If you don’t heed the warning, we’re letting you know what will happen, what the consequences are going to be. It’s forward-moving, not backward-moving.”

David Kennedy of the National Network of Safe Communities created the approach with Tracy and said it’s working in many cities, including Oakland.

Kennedy, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said officials will target less than one-half of 1% of Wilmington’s population.

“We know that if we engage with them in the right way and with the groups that they are with, we can have this kind of rapid transformative impact on violence, while not treating everyone else in the neighborhood as if they are potential felons, because they are not,’’ Kennedy said.

Focusing on the violent offenders instead of treating average citizens as if they’re felons-in-waiting is smart, but it goes completely against the grain of the gun control lobby’s ideology, which is all about restricting the right to keep and bear arms in the vain hope of one day making the United States a gigantic “gun-free zone.”

It also goes against the dominant philosophy in the state legislature, where Democrats approved a half-dozen measures this year including bans on so-called assault weapons and “large capacity” magazines, forbidding those under 21-years of age from lawfully purchasing firearms, and making it easier to sue gun makers to hold them responsible for the actions of criminals.

If violent crime continues to decline in Wilmington over the rest of the year we can expect those Democratic lawmakers to pat themselves on the back and try to take credit for the city’s turnaround, but the truth is that these laws will have little impact on those responsible for the violence. More cities should be ensuring that there’s help for those who want to change and consequences for those who don’t, but sadly most Democrats are still intent on trying to ban our way to safety.