Over the past year, police in Laurel have seen a slight uptick in the number of calls for service; however, have seen a reduction in serious crimes in the community. During a recent meeting of Laurel Mayor and Council, Chief Wright presented an annual report outlining police activity over the past two years (2017-2018). In his presentation, Wright said calls for service involving criminal activities were up slightly (+15) from 2,309 calls in 2017 to 2,324 calls in 2018.
Traffic related calls for service were down from 4,402 calls in 2017 to 4,303 calls in 2018. In addition, driving under the influence arrests were reduced by 35 percent in 2018 (35 arrests in 2017 and 22 arrests in 2018) and motor vehicle collisions dropped by 3.5 percent (182 in 2017 and 176 in 2018). Wright feels that the decrease in DUIs and motor vehicle collisions can also be attributed to his department’s proactive, community policing approach to law enforcement.
In the 14 areas of criminal activities documented by police, all but three have shown a reduction over 2017 stats. Thefts were up six percent in 2018 (141 in 2017 and 150 in 2018); trespassing was up by 29 percent (51 incidents in 2017 and 66 in 2018) and weapons charges were up by 50 percent (8 incidents in 2017 and 12 in 2018).
Likewise, Wright believes proactive, community policing has helped drive a reversal in trends involving increased criminal activities and arrests. According to statistics shared in the annual report, homicide rates in Laurel remained unchanged with one incident in each of the two years. Sex offenses decrease by 29 percent, down from seven incidents in 2017 to five incidents in 2018. Robberies dropped by 21 percent, down from 13 in 2017 to nine incidents in 2018. Burglaries decreased 38 percent with 39 incidents reported in 2017 and 24 incidents in 2018. Motor vehicle thefts dropped significantly in 2018 (down 62 percent) with eight thefts in 2017 and only three thefts reported in 2018.
Wright also explained that increased police presence throughout the community is vital, especially in those areas with high reports of criminal and traffic-related incidents. However, he is also quick to point out that officers must be where the criminal activity is occurring. He pointed out that over 25 percent of the Laurel Police Department activities are occurring at four of the town’s residential complexes. These include Little Creek apartments where in 2018, 14.7 percent of police activities occurred; this was up by 3.7 percent over 2017. Total police department activity was also represented at 5.2 percent for Holly Brook apartments, 3.9 percent at Carvel Gardens and 1.4 percent at Wexford Village.
Former Town Councilwoman Ann “Snickie” Davis was in the council chamber audience and asked if the town was able to gain financial support from the housing complexes given the amount of time officers were spending there. “This puts everybody else in the community at a disadvantage because police have to spend so much time at these four residential complexes,” she said.
Mayor John Shwed said the town had attempted to address the issue in 2009 through a proposed ordinance (2009-10). The town sought to have financial support be levied against the complexes in the form of a special fee that would be commensurate with the amount of police time spent at each of the developments. “We asked that they have their own private security unit to help with enforcement and we also sought to have a fee be charged to help offset the costs of the town’s officers who responded there. We had all kinds of opposition to this ordinance and the Delaware State Housing Authority shut us down,” Shwed said.
Chief Wright said officer response to incidents at the residential complexes can be treated no different that response to any citizen’s home or neighborhood. “However, we are able to apply for federal funds to help us offset our overtime and special enforcement initiatives,” he said.
Chief Wright also presented a video account of an incident that had occurred in Laurel back in February. He said the incident helps to demonstrate the significant dangers that Laurel police officers face when patrolling the streets of the community. He also said the incident helps to indicate the importance of citizens being “the eyes and ears” of the police department.
On Feb. 7 of this year, officers were notified by a citizen about suspicious activity from a group of individuals in a vehicle that was parked outside a neighboring residence. Police responded to the intersection of West 6th Street and Belle Avenue and approached the vehicle. The vehicle fled and police pursued the individuals. The chase, which took officers outside of Laurel, reached speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour.
The vehicle crashed outside of town and six subjects jumped out wearing ski masks and ran in multiple directions. With the help of Delaware State Police, three of the individuals were apprehended at the scene. A search of the area resulted in the location of two loaded handguns, which had been thrown, from the vehicle just prior to the crash.
Wright said two of the apprehended subjects were from Wilmington and along with the guns found at the scene the individuals were linked to numerous assaults, robberies and shots fired complaints in the Wilmington area. They were placed on one million dollars bond at the time of their arrests.
“The mere fact that a resident in Laurel noticed suspicious activity and reported it to police is tremendous,” Wright said. “That car load of individuals were going to do something serious. You do not have subjects sitting in a car with ski masks on, holding loaded weapons who are not going to commit a serious home invasion, or other dangerous activities. These individuals were coming from out of Wilmington to take specific actions against someone. This is the type of incident that our officers face. However, I am here to tell you that we are doing the best we can with what we have and our officers are doing a great job. However, if it had not been for that citizen who took the action to notify us about these suspicious individuals, I fear we would have had a serious home invasion. Citizens who report suspicious activities are a wonderful resource for our police department.”