Despite homicides reported this year, Police Chief says violent crime down 22%, trending to pre-pandemic levels

Published 12:10 am Thursday, April 21, 2022

SALISBURY — Despite four homicides reported so far in 2022, the Salisbury Police Department reports an overall 22% reduction in violent crime with optimism the city may get closer to the trends seen prior to the pandemic.

Chief Jerry Stokes presented year-to-date data on crime and current staffing levels Tuesday during the City Council meeting, providing some more promising statistics for the first quarter of 2022 compared to those of 2021. The first quarter includes crime data as of the end of March.

Stokes reports a nearly 60% reduction in the number of shootings into occupied dwellings, which had been a significant issue in 2021. A total of seven have been reported by the end of March, but that number is still above the average number seen during the same timeframe in 2018-2020.

Additionally, the department is seeing a 43% reduction in the number of assaults with deadly weapons such as guns, putting it right at the average amount seen by this same time in 2018-2020. By the end of March, Salisbury saw a 23% reduction in shots fired calls. Even so, four homicides have been reported this year, which is the same amount that occurred by this same time in 2021.

Overall, that marks an overall violent crime reduction of 22%, which gives Stokes hope the department could return to pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, total crime was at the lowest it had been in 20 years, while violent crime was at a 20-year low in 2020.

“We’re starting to get back to where we were in 2018 and I fully expect this to continue in that trend,” Stokes said.

Following a question from council member Anthony Smith, Stokes said he hasn’t fully studied all factors that contribute to the violent crime reduction as it’s still early. But a reopened economy and a steadily declining unemployment rate are two that likely play a role since economic status is often tied to crime rates, Stokes explained.

Stokes also detailed a potential shift in the violence being seen in Salisbury. He said a violent incident review conducted by UNC-G shortly after he began his stint with Salisbury in 2016 attributed most violent crime to gang-related activity. But after efforts to target those most heavily involved in gang activity over recent years, trends suggest there may need to be more focus on dispute- or domestic-driven violence. That trend should be carefully monitored as the city grapples with continued growth that may lead to a “haves and have-nots” dynamic that could drive more violent crime, Stokes said.

Stokes pointed to a national trend of increased motor vehicle thefts and larceny from motor vehicles, which increased by 36% and 13% in Salisbury in 2022, respectively.

Council member Harry McLaughlin asked Stokes about the partnerships being utilized to reduce violent crime. Stokes listed several, including U.S. Homeland Security and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms task forces, Project Safe Neighborhoods, the Teens and Police Service Academy program in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, the partnership with NAACP’s Cease Fire program and summer camps for students.

Stokes clarified that even though Rowan County has stopped funding the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, it’s still ongoing in conjunction with the District Attorney’s office, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He said the current federal administration has put a focus on community policing efforts, so some meetings are being held with the U.S. Department of Justice to tweak such programs.

Additionally, the Chief’s Advisory Board will be working to launch listening sessions in various neighborhoods across the city, beginning with the West End this summer.

Police officers also work with the county’s Post-Overdose Response Team, which works to quickly respond to and help rehabilitate overdose victims. March saw the highest rate of overdoses since January 2020, with 23 reported. That’s out of 56 reported so far this year. The next highest number of overdoses seen in a single month was 22 reported in November 2020. Stokes noted that data represent the number of reports that involved Salisbury police officers.

Stokes referenced a recent drug raid on Maupin Avenue that seized 76 grams of fentanyl, which amounts to 76,000 milligrams. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency reports just 2 milligrams can be lethal, so Stokes said that amounted to 38,000 potentially lethal doses that were seized. He added that fentanyl continues to be the biggest source of opioid overdoses in the area, closely followed by methamphetamine.

Staffing

At the beginning of the year, Stokes reported 14 vacancies, or 83% of its police force filled. As of the end of March, the department reports 12 vacancies, with 71 positions filled, which represents nearly 86% of the total workforce. Stokes said the department anticipates one retirement and one departure, while another officer is currently seeking employment at another law enforcement agency. One officer is currently undergoing a military deployment, while two others are expecting children and are on longer-term, light-duty work.

However, while no officers are in the conditional officer stage, four of the department’s personnel are undergoing the Basic Law Enforcement Training program and two other are in field training.

The department saw two officers depart this year so far, but five others have been hired. By contrast, the department saw 18 separations in 2021 with 11 hires made. In 2020, Salisbury had 12 separations and just four hires, while the department broke even in 2019 with nine hires and nine separations.

Stokes said the cost to replace each officer is estimated at $80,000.

That puts the current turnover rate at 2.4%, though it’s still early in the year to estimate any trends. The turnover rate peaked in 2021 at 21.7%, and in 2020 the turnover rate was 14.5%, which are both higher than the 10% national average calculated in the Journal of Human Resource Management as of 2016. Stokes is optimistic about keeping that rate in line with that 10% average.

As of now, the department is “still heavily white male,” but also diverse, Stokes said. Currently, more than 60% of the police force is white and male. Black male officers comprise 14%, while 11% are white females, 4.6% are Black females, 4% are Hispanic males and 2% represents one Asian male.

Stokes noted the two departures this year happen to be one Black female officer and one Black male officer. However, there are a few minority candidates in the background phase, so the department is continuing its efforts to ensure the police force represents the community it serves, he added.

Council member David Post said Stokes and the department should be commended for their recruiting efforts.

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About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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