City staff, WSPD looking for solutions to combat violent crimes

This map shows all the homicides and reported gunfire in Winston-Salem in 2019.

City staff, WSPD looking for solutions to combat violent crimes
November 14
07:00 2019

In response to the rise in shootings and other violent crimes in the area, the Winston-Salem Police Department (WSPD) and the City Council is looking to expand several initiatives that are already in place, including one that will help restore suspended drivers’ licenses for qualified residents. 

Violent crimes are defined as crimes in which an offender uses or threatens to use force on a victim. Some of those crimes include murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. In the past year while robberies have been on a decline, rapes and aggravated assaults have increased between 10 and 14%. When looking at the number of homicides in the city, with about six weeks left in the year, there have already been 24 murders, compared to 2017 and 2018 when there were 26 murders for the year.

While making a presentation to the Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, Nov. 12, Chief Catrina Thompson said, “Violent crime is leading to premature deaths of our young men and women in the city and causing non-fatal injuries to other members of our community.” When discussing a map that shows where the homicides are taking place, Thompson mentioned that the homicides in 2019 haven’t been concentrated to one single area or ward; she said they are happening in every part of the city. And a map, provided by the WSPD, shows gunfire is even more widespread throughout the city. 

“For the most part, homicides are occurring all over our city. We have had homicides occurring in every ward with the exception of our West Ward and Northwest Ward. Every other ward in 2019 we’ve had a homicide,” Thompson continued. “I think it’s important to mention that while it’s no comfort to us, this uptick has been experienced all over the country, particularly in the state of North Carolina. I’ve been in contact with my colleagues in Durham, Kernersville and Greensboro as well, and they’ve all seen an increase in homicides this year versus last year.”

To combat these issues, earlier this year the WSPD formed the Violent Firearm Investigation Team (VFIT). Thompson said VFIT is comprised of detectives who are specially trained in the area of ballistic evidence examination submission. Those detectives focus investigative efforts exclusively on offenders who utilize firearms in the commission of crimes. 

As of Oct. 25, VFIT and the WSPD have investigated more than 1,700 incidents in which a firearm was unlawfully discharged and based on current data, the WSPD will seize more than 1,000 firearms by the end of the year. 

Thompson said although she is grateful for the VFIT team, she knows that there are other violent crimes and shootings that don’t get reported. Thompson said she is hopeful that with the award of a grant under the Local Law Enforcement Crime Gun Intelligence Center for the purchase of a gunfire detection system, they will have the opportunity to do more to stop these senseless crimes. 

The gunfire detection system, which will be implemented in the first quarter of 2020, uses acoustic sensors to detect, identify, and triangulate the source of sounds that represent gunfire in a designated area. The system then authenticates the acoustic signal to classify the event as possible gunfire before automatically reporting the incident to local law enforcement. 

With a partnership with community organizations, local clergy, and other law enforcement agencies, the WSPD has also established the Forsyth County Gang Reduction Steering Committee with a focus to target suppression, provide direct intervention, and prevention programs and activities. 

“These are potential solutions to the problem at varied levels of empirical support. We will continue to target gun violence and gang activity in this city,” Thompson said. “We face few challenges more urgent than gun violence and we are committed to working with partners to tackle violence in a way that people can feel safe in our city.” 

While the WSPD is doing their part to combat violence, the City of Winston-Salem is looking to ramp-up their efforts as well. One of the initiatives that the city is looking to expand is the Forsyth County Driver’s License Restoration Effort. 

The initiative, which helps residents with suspended licenses have them restored, started in 2015 by District Attorney Jim O’Neil and to date 2,000 people have received assistance, but there is still work to be done. When discussing the effort earlier this week, Tasha Logan-Ford, assistant city manager, said the purpose of the initiative is to help remove barriers from individuals in our community. 

“The program is designed to address minor traffic matters, non-violent, no pending felonies, and the need still exists to expand this service in Forsyth County,” Logan-Ford said. “I was attending a meeting in Cleveland Avenue Homes as part of a community listening session and this topic was brought up by one of the residents. They weren’t aware that we had this program in place, but they were talking to me about some of the challenges they were having just trying to get to work and provide for their families because they didn’t have their license available to them.”

A 2018 study found that “clean slate clinic participants experience significant increase in average employment rates and average real earnings” and nearly 1,900 categories require a driver’s license. In a study in New Jersey, 45% of people with driver’s license suspensions reported losing their job and not being able to find a new one. For individuals who did find work, 88% reported decreases in income. 

Logan-Ford said one of the primary challenges that they have with the current program in the county is lack of staffing and financial resources to continue the program on a consistent basis. To expand the program, Logan-Ford said they will need to find a way to cover staff expenses, which will cost about $160,000, and the development of a website for marketing purposes.

“For us to look at expanding this program where it could operate on a continual basis, versus now where it operates as staff has the capacity to execute the program, it would be about $160,000,” Logan-Ford continued. “There’s still some gaps where we need to identify community partners for additional support, but we would be able to help individuals that may have court costs or fees that will be associated with this program. In some cases, based on income, we can adjust those things and wave them, but in some cases we would have to identify some additional support.” 

The city is also looking to expand YouthBuild, a program designed to empower high school dropouts and other local at-risk youth the opportunity to reclaim their lives and develop personal and professional skills, and SOAR, a program that targets formerly incarcerated individuals of all ages that have made demonstrated efforts to change the courses of their lives. The program provides a six-month term of temporary employment in a city department and life skills education.

When discussing the expansion of the programs and its connection to crime in the area, Councilmember James Taylor, who is publisher of The Chronicle, said, “When you talk about the root and causation of crime, people commit crimes sometimes for reasons, such as if you can’t get to work, if you can’t feed your family, then most people will feed them at any cost, but I think it’s incumbent of counties and cities to work together like this program is proposing.”

He said, “The point of this presentation is to let you know that the city is working hard to do everything we can to address violent crime in our community. The police are doing everything they can and we are implementing programs to work with young people in our community.” 

About Author

Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors