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Salisbury Police Chief speaks to Civitan Club addresses violence, other issues

Chief

Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes.

Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes.

By Shavonne Walker

shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes addressed recent violent shootings during a noon presentation to the Civitan Club of Salisbury on Thursday where he was a guest speaker.

Two men were seriously wounded Wednesday night following a shooting in the 600 block of East Cemetery Street. The motive behind the shooting is not known, but police have said the incident is not random and the two who were shot know each other.

A week ago, police responded to four shootings all within a 15-hour period, three of them related, Stokes has said.

In July, a Salisbury man was shot and killed at Zion Hills Apartment complex, bringing the number of murders this year to six.

This summer, there were two shootings, one stemming from a domestic dispute at Colonial Village Apartments in July and the other in June at Lakewood Apartments where two parties were shooting at each other.

“We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” Stokes said.

“There are some underlying issues that are in some way facilitating these violent crimes,” he said.

Stokes said he’s not sure if it’s the community doesn’t trust police or if it’s a matter of people don’t want to “snitch” on someone else.

He said it’s important that the community work together to solve these crimes.

Changes

Stokes has implemented some changes and said there are other changes that will come once some needed positions are filled. Currently, the department has 14 vacancies.

One change is to return to what’s traditionally been known as beats, which will give officers a smaller coverage area. He said the department will also use data mapping to see where serious crimes are occurring.

Stokes said his goal is to not just walking a beat, but develop a relationship with the community.

This week, Lt. J.J. Wilkerson began his new role as the community liaison where he’ll “be our driving force to be that ‘one-stop shop,’ ” Stokes said.

Another change is establishing a Neighborhood Crime Reduction Team, which will be implemented once more officers are in place. Essentially, beat officers would identify a problem and a team to help would work to resolve that problem and/or make arrests.

Stokes said one of the things he heard was that Salisbury Police were trying to handle it all on their own. He said they’ve tried to reach out to other law enforcement agencies and partners. In the Wednesday night shooting, police called upon the SBI to assist at the scene.

In the past, the police department has held Salisbury Neighborhood Action Group (S.N.A.G.) meetings at the police department in the mornings, which limited the time some people could attend due to work schedules. The department is working to get the meetings moved to the afternoons and moved offsite at Brenner Crossing.

He said that location was chosen because, in part, the apartment officials offered a meeting room and its in a neighborhood that has been “stressed.”

Vacancies

Although the police department has vacancies, Stokes said, they are actively recruiting new officers. He said he’s already sworn in a couple since being on the job. The department has lost some officers in recent years to bigger agencies, officer misconduct and through retirement. Officials reported in March they were short 11 positions.

Stokes told the crowd that if they know people who are interested in joining the department to let them know positions are available. He said they would like to hire diverse candidates “because that helps us understand the community that we live in.”

Citizens have said they want to see diversity in the police department.

Concerns

Stokes again said he’s concerned and scared for this community that has been plagued by so much violence. What should the community be scared of?, someone asked.

“We should be frightened for the crime that seems to be centralized in an area of the city, scared for the people who live there,” Stokes said.

He said his concern is that during a recent shooting at East Fisher Street, what if the officer who was in the area had been struck by a bullet or what if the teen running from the area had been struck by a bullet?

Stokes said as citizens everyone should be aware of their surroundings.

He also discussed the pay for police officers following a question from a Civitan member. Stokes said for an entry level police officer the pay is around $40,000 a year and the department needs to make sure they are keeping up with neighboring agencies who may offer more. He said there are things that can be done creatively to make the Salisbury Police Department progressive in salaries.

Stokes challenged the group to thank an officer when they see them out and about and to pray for them.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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