WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Police: Feud sparks string of shootings

Wilson officers working to curb gun violence

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Wilson has seen a wave of shootings in the past several months. Many suspects have been charged with attempted murder after several shootings have left individuals injured.

The shootings aren’t random, police say, but are between two groups engaged in an ongoing feud.

Wilson Police Chief Thomas Hopkins said when most people were growing up and had a disagreement with someone, they would usually fight it out. But now that guns are more accessible, gangs are using them to solve problems.

He said the groups believe it’s a permanent solution to a short-term problem.

“That seems to be the way, unfortunately, a lot of individuals choose to solve their issues and problems,” Hopkins said.

One of the most recent shootings occurred last week when two men where injured in the 1000 block of Vance Street around 5 p.m. They were walking, and shots were fired from a black Nissan Altima. No arrests have been made yet, but police continue to investigate that case and other open shooting cases.

A majority — but not all — of the shootings since January are connected, police said.

A PRIORITY

Authorities have stepped up their efforts in recent months to charge violent offenders and get them off the streets.

Police are in the middle of an ongoing operation called “Suppress Fire” where they’ve identified specific areas where repeated shootings have happened and identified persons of interests in those active cases. Officers also been working to serve warrants on violent offenders.

“We meet daily on these shootings,” said Capt. Jeff Boykin, who oversees the Special Operations Unit. “You’ve got units dedicated to making it a priority to go after the individuals who are committing these shootings.”

Detectives said they are also focusing on peak times for violent crimes and putting extra resources toward the investigations.

“If we do get a shooting, they are putting in all available resources they have to put into that investigation,” Hopkins said, adding that local, state and federal authorities are involved.

MORE GUNS SEIZED

Hopkins said in the past year, police have added more personnel assigned to investigative units, which has led to more charges in gun crime cases.

“In the past, we had just one team,” he said. “Because that unit has increased, we have more personnel to go out and do that proactive-type work.”

He said other violent crimes have led to arrests in additional cases as a part of new investigative tools Wilson police are able to utilize.

“We are spending a lot more time with some additional tools that we have when we’re investigating these shootings,” he said.

And it appears to be working.

In the past four months alone, the police department’s Problem-Oriented Response Team has seized 50 guns. That’s more than the previous two years combined when the team seized just 45 guns.

“We’ve caught a lot of people with guns this year,” said Sgt. William Hitchcock, who oversees the PORT. Some of those defendants are previously identified gang members.

“Some we’ve caught with more than one,” Hitchcock said. We just want the guns off the streets.”

Officials said they are also working with federal authorities to trace the seized guns’ origins.

“We are attacking that side with our partners,” Boykin added.

BY THE NUMBERS

Hopkins said while it may appear Wilson is having more shootings than usual, statistics don’t bear that out.

“We have not had a significant increase,” he said.

Figures show the city of Wilson’s Part I crimes have decreased. Those crimes include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson as a part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.

Statistics compiled by the police department show that from January through May of this year, 911 emergency communications received 334 shots-fired calls. That’s up slightly compared to data from the same time last year.

Sgt. Steve Stroud said those calls could be anything from actual gunshots to fireworks to the sound of a muffler. He said there have been 42 reports generated from those shots-fired calls so far this year, compared to 28 from the same time period in 2018.

Stroud said that increase is result of more investigative efforts and resources police are using when responding to shots-fired calls. He said the department now requires officers called to a report of gunfire to conduct an investigation instead of riding through the area when they don’t see anyone actively shooting.

He said investigative reports have increased because of new tactics officers are using to solve a host of crimes, and they’re connecting the dots.

The number of shots fired into occupied dwellings so far this year is 21, compared to 20 during the same time period last year. While police made only four arrests in those 20 shootings in 2018, they’ve arrested 10 people so far this year out of the 21 cases.

UNCOOPERATIVE VICTIMS

While the police department and its units work tirelessly on these cases each day, officers also face a problem that’s trending nationally.

“You have an uncooperative victim, and nobody cooperates with police,” Hopkins said.

That makes it more difficult for police to do their job even if the shooter and the victim are from opposing sides. Police say victims typically know their shooter.

“They may have beef with each other, but the commonality between the two is that nobody wants to talk to police,” Hopkins said.

While police are still able to make arrests despite victims not cooperating when they’re shot, it’s vital for the community to help investigators as well. Witnesses and tipsters can do so by calling Crime Stoppers anonymously.

Police say if residents hear shots fired, they need to immediately report the incident.

Boykin said there was a shots-fired call recently but no one called until the next morning.

“If they had called that night, the officer might have caught a speeding car going out of the area,” he said. “That could have been the one thing we needed.”

Even if you aren’t sure about hearing a gunshot, police advise, call anyway and report any small detail you may see.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT AND PREVENTION

Hopkins said police have a great working relationship with community groups whom they routinely meet with and provide statistics and up-to-date information regarding cases.

“I think we do get a good response from the community,” he said. “We do try and put that information out there.”

Hopkins said community policing is important when combating crime in any area. He said the Wilson Police Department’s Police Athletic League helps officers make an impact in children’s and teenagers’ lives and steer them toward a positive path.

“We want to prevent before we have to intervene,” he said. “We do that through our PAL program.”

The PAL program, a nonprofit, is made up of current and retired police officers. Together, they put on various free camps for youth throughout the year.

“We have 700-plus kids we interact with each year,” Hopkins said. “I think it’s been very effective. We get to know a lot of the kids that way. It’s ones of the best preventive tools we have.”

Police ask anyone with information regarding any case to call the Wilson Police Department at 252-399-2323 or provide anonymous tips by calling Crime Stoppers at 252-243-2255.

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