Up & Coming Weekly

May 31, 2022

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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Page 9 of 28

WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM JUNE 1 - 7, 2022 UCW 9 Police Chief gives update on statistics, efforts to reduce crime by JASON BRADY Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins will tell you upfront that crime is inevitable. Yet, she will also point to recent data showing that Fayetteville's overall crime has been down for the past six years. Hawkins earlier this week presented her department's first- quarter crime report of 2022 to the Fayetteville City Council. e re- port primarily compared data from January through March 2021 to data from January through March 2022. However, for three major crime categories — crimes against persons, combined person and property crime and property crime — the comparison data covered six years. Hawkins showed that in a six- year period, combined persons and property crimes were down. In 2016, the department reported 19,345 crimes against persons and property. In 2021 that amount dipped to 14,699. However, when comparing the first quarter of 2021 to 2022, aggra- vated assaults rose 27.6% from 225 to 287. Burglary rose 8.5%, from 236 to 256; larceny 32%, from 441 to 582; motor vehicle theft 75.6%, from 86 to 151; and robbery 38%, from 50 to 69. Domestic violence rose 27.3%, from 33 to 42. On the plus side, homicides dropped by 8.3%. In the first quarter, Fayetteville saw one less homicide compared to last year's 12. Suicides and overdoses also dropped significantly. Suicides dropped from nine to five, a 44.4% reduction, and overdoses declined from 19 to 16, a 15.8% drop. During a recent one-on-one in- terview with Up & Coming Weekly, Hawkins said crimes against indi- viduals or persons are lower now than six years ago. In 2016, there were 4,769 re- ported incidents of crimes against persons. In 2021, there were 4,039 reported incidents. Only in 2019 was the number of reported inci- dents lower, at 3,889. Aggravated assault had one of the most significant increases compared to the 2021 first quarter. Hawkins said that category has a unique reporting system. One act of assault can result in more than one reported aggravated assault charge. For example, if someone shoots into a home yet no one is injured by the bullet, the law still counts the number of aggravated assaults based on the number of people occupying the house. e same rule applies to shooting into an occupied vehicle. Shoot into a car with four people, and you are charged with four counts of aggra- vated assault. "We'll never be at zero in crime. at's the first education the pub- lic has to have. We know that crime is going to happen. We know peo- ple are going to do things; people are going to commit crimes. Our objective is to determine how we can use as many tools and resourc- es to minimize that happening in our community. And that is not the responsibility of one entity at all," she said. Hawkins said the community bears some responsibility for de- terring crime, especially for crimes involving illegal weapons, which are often stolen from homes and vehicles. "We know people break into cars. And people leave all kinds of things in their cars, and they also leave their weapons in the car, which is absolutely crazy," she said. "In 2021, there were 267 weapons stolen out of vehicles. Why would you leave your weap- ons in vehicles," she said. For example, in 2021, there were 1106 motor vehicle break-ins, of which 69% or 762 vehicles were left unlocked. at year, 218 handguns, 23 rifles, nine shotguns, and am- munition were taken from motor vehicles. Only 58 were stolen from homes and two from businesses. So far in the first three months of 2022, there have been 307 motor vehicle break-ins, of which 64% or 198 were from unsecured vehicles. e result is 67 illegally owned handguns, and three rifles are on the street, probably used in crimi- nal activities. Hawkins said the department's narcotics unit, during its investiga- tions alone, seized 45 guns in 2021 and seven during the first three months of 2022. Department-wide, the police seized 212 guns in the first quarter of 2021 and 215 guns in the first quarter of this year. "We as a community have a responsibility and are capable of preventing weapons from getting into the hands of people doing illegal activities," she said. "We as a community are going to have to say: What are we doing to prevent guns getting into the hands of people doing illegal activities?" "Criminals know people don't lock their cars. ey don't break windows; they just pull the door handles," she said. Crime-fighting has become more sophisticated than ever. From analyzing what makes someone a repeat victim to what makes some- one a repeat offender, Hawkins credits her officers with using technology as a key resource in fighting crime. e department uses 118 city- owned surveillance cameras and another 289 contract cameras in a citywide network. e cameras are along major thoroughfares like Skibo Road, Owen Drive and the All-American Expressway, and in the Bonnie Doone and downtown area, among others. e contract- ed cameras are mounted on city buildings, she said. "We have a camera system that captures people (doing illegal activities) quickly. We have LPR (license plate reader) cameras," she said. "We have 52 new ones deployed throughout the city now," she said. e new LPR cameras come with an AI element (artifi- cial intelligence) that can provide additional information about a vehicle, not just the license plate numbers. e goal is to see who comes into the city and who leaves the city after committing a crime. Another area that plays a sig- nificant role in deterring crime in Fayetteville is the need for a full complement of officers. Despite a significant number of retirements or simply resignations to follow other pursuits, the department later this summer expects to have about 50 recruits in two separate academies, one conducted in July and the other in August. Hawkins said the department has been actively recruiting for both lateral entries (experienced officers from other departments) and new cadets. e department recently sent recruiters to Puerto Rico. e U.S. island territory's pension system for its police of- ficers does not compare with the retirement and benefits provided by the Fayetteville Police Depart- ment. During the recruiting drive ear- lier this year in Puerto Rico, the de- partment received 60 applications on-site, of which 25 passed the test given to everyone who wants to be a police officer, Hawkins said. Most are lateral entries. Hawkins called them "heavy hitters who are everything you want in an officer." ere was a recent criticism on social media for sending a delega- tion to Puerto Rico and spend- ing $18,000. Hawkins said she is unaware of any opposition to the department's recruiting efforts. She said even rounding up the alleged amount to $20,000 would still have been worth it. "What's the cost of going without an officer?" she asked. "How much money is spent on overtime when we are short 50 officers?" "We are recruiting everywhere." NEWS DIGEST JASON BRADY, Staff Writer. COMMENTS? Editor@upandcomin- gweekly.com 910-484-6200. Police Chief Gina Hawkins takes a phone call informing her that officers successfully rescued a 7-year-old, the subject of an Amber Alert, May 24. (Photo by Jason Brady)

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