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Editorial: Fight crime at its source

New chief

The Salisbury Police Department is evolving under new Chief Jerry Stokes.

For starters, Stokes doesn’t mind asking for help. The Salisbury Police Department had a tradition of not calling on other law enforcement agencies for assistance, Stokes told the Salisbury Rotary Club on Tuesday. The city also had about a dozen unsolved homicides. Stokes said he asked the SBI for help and the state agency has made progress with some cold case work. There also is an SBI detective in town this week following leads on a more recent crime, he said. Stokes said he hopes to maintain a good working relationship with both the SBI and the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.

The Police Department also had about a dozen vacant positions when Stokes arrived, and filling them has been a challenge, he said. The number of people completing Basic Law Enforcement Training in the state has fallen dramatically, Stokes said. So he has started recruiting people who are interested in law enforcement and then paying them to take the training.

The chief’s main mission Tuesday was to explain the philosophy of community policing. Some people think it means more foot patrols, or more of a social-work approach. He described community policing as an organizational mindset — with smaller beats, better relationships and, if all goes well, greater trust between the community and police. Problem solving plays a big role.

Stokes also gave an update on Salisbury’s troubling crime rate. “You’ll never see me gloss over and change statistics,” he said. Data recently released by the FBI for 2015 shows Salisbury’s violent crime and property crime rates are higher than those of several nearby cities, including Charlotte. Salisbury had five murders or manslaughters compared to Charlotte’s 61 in 2015, but when rape, robbery and aggravated assault numbers are added, Salisbury’s overall violent crime rate is 743 per 100,000 residents, and Charlotte’s is 678. “These are the problems we’ve got to focus on resolving,” he said.

Stokes alluded to underlying societal issues that lead to the city’s high crime rate but did not get specific. Poverty has to be at the root of it, but what keeps people in poverty? Lack of skills, lack of jobs, instability at home and more.

“I can’t arrest my way out of gang problems; I can’t arrest my way out of gun problems,” Stokes said. The community needs to work together to find solutions and attack crime at the source, he said.

First, we need some frank talk about what that source is.

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