Wilmington has already made 40 arrests of juveniles with handguns in 2020, more than doubling last year's total and showcasing a problem Police Chief Robert Tracy is looking slow down.
Tracy spoke at Tuesday's Wilmington City Council Public Safety Committee meeting about gun violence, but spent much of his time focusing on statistics on his city's youngest residents.
Tracy said 20% of the arrests made in the city involving gun possession were juveniles, and that one, already, had five prior arrests.
"I spoke about the concerns that I had with young people that have guns that are emboldened and not afraid to use them. I talked about how many we re-arrest yet they continue to get back out. And when they get out, we're doing them a disservice because they've already pulled the trigger once or they are carrying a firearm. They are also going to be a victim of firearm violence. If we don't get them the help that they need to figure out what is going on in their life, to rehabilitate them to get them ready to go out, we're going to continue to have this problem."
Tracy pointed to the work of former WPD Chief Bobby Cummings, who is overseeing the Youth in Group Violence Intervention Program as part of the National Network of Safe Communities.
"We started seeing the juvenile violence on an uptick at the beginning of the year and that went up exponentially because of the pandemic. We talked about changing a model that started with adults, but now we're looking at juveniles. You can't bring them all into the same room, but you can do custom notifications--the ones that have the highest propensity for violence, and there are some individuals that are in the county who go into the city, and some who go from the city to the county, to do their violence. We have to work well with our state and county partners on real-time intelligence to get ahead of these things, but we're also making visits to their home. We're bringing social services; we're telling them what risk they have, if it's relocation and a danger to their family, is there a service we can get, what can we get, anything we can do with their needs to help them get out of this violence and get the help that they need."
Tracy emphasized that the "emboldened" gun use has come, sometimes with no regard for law officers already being in the area.
"I've been out there this summer, where I was dealing with one place where there was shots fired with a large crowd, and only a half block away, direct in my line of sight, someone started firing a gun with four to five police officers on the street. There is a boldness, that is a key word."
Tracy reported as of Sunday night there had been 104 shootings in the city. It's unclear whether that figure includes a double-shooting reported about an hour after the meeting concluded, and 22 murders. At this point last year, Wilmington had 15 murders. The current murder total is the highest to date since 2017 when the city saw 25 murders by mid-September.
The shooting count is also at a year-to-date, three-year high, going back to 126 by this point in 2017. Last year, Wilmington had 61 murders, while in 2018 it was 53 murders at this benchmark.
There have been 133 shooting victims as of Sunday, with the likely addition of two more Tuesday night after the double-shooting in North Brandywine Village, well above 2018's 57, but below 2017's 147.
Tracy said as he has researched cities from Philadelphia to Chicago, and Rochester to Hartford, it's a similar type of story.
"They're all experiencing some of these things. I see chiefs trying to look at these things and find ways to try to get ahead of these things. Kids are not in school, people are not working, there's a pandemic disruption going on. There are people where the only place they can get out is outside. There are things going on in social media. What I can tell you what is happening in our city, and probably other cities, these shootings, they're not random. They all know each other, and we actually have a good idea who many of them are as well."
Tracy said the key is trying to get background on suspects and victims as soon as possible.
"How do you address this and make sure you're looking at these individuals? It's not just locations, but people have the highest propensity of violence to be a victim, or an offender, in a shooting."
"Each time there is a shooting, we don't slow down. There's an immediate phone call to the chief of police by the duty captain on the scene. We go right away with the post-shooting retaliatory plan to find out who the victim is, because by knowing the victim, you might know the associates of the victim, because the associates of the victim are the ones who will retaliate. We have to get ahead of that to make sure who we know, do the evidence, look for the videos, do the canvas, make sure that we do all of the things as good investigators that had our clearance rate in the last few years higher than the national average when it came to gun violence."
Of particular concern to Tracy, the amount of prior arrests among gun possession suspects.
Of the 181 arrested for gun possession on August 31, four had been arrested twice this year, including one who was arrested twice in August, and another who was booked in January and February.
Forty-four percent had period gun arrests, six had four arrests, 10 had three arrests, 20 had two arrests, and 41 had one prior charge.
Sixty-two of those arrested were on probation, with a total of 1,800 felony charges and 3,000 misdemeanors.
He also said 65% of those charged with gun possession were immediately released to the street. Five had no bail, four were given unsecured bail, 45 had secured bail while 90 were remanded on cash-only.
"When you release people out to the street, without really dealing with the issue, and expect a different result. These are the ones with the highest propensity for violence that are doing the shootings," Tracy said.
As for the youth gun offenders, Tracy said he'd like to work better with his partners in the criminal justice system.
"We really need to take a look at what we're doing, We have Ferris, we have detention centers that can help with rehabilitation centers, and I hope we can use more of that."
Tracy was invited to address the topic following last week's city council meeting, which discussed the rising gun violence in Wilmington.