Why Wilmington Is So Dangerous

Won’t somebody please give its police department a homicide unit?

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Bobby Cummings seems like a great guy, quick with a smile, easy to talk with, a full-grown Boy Scout. Honest, courteous, kind, the whole package.

And that’s why I feel so bad for him. He just accepted the nearly impossible task of turning around the most dangerous city in AmericaWilmington, Delaware. Recently it passed Camden and every other city in the country in per capita murders, shooting and violent crimes.


It’s not that I don’t think Cummings can make a difference. He can, if the City of Wilmington will let him.

I didn’t realize how much Cummings is handicapped by bureaucratic idiocy until I sat down with him for a TV interview on MeTV, Channel 2. Within the first three minutes of the interview I was stunned.

I asked an obvious question, “Do you need more police officers?” And I got the obvious answer, “Yes.” Like any police chief in the history of police chiefs would say no.

“How many do you need?”

It was the answer to that question was the stunner. Cummings said, “If I could get 50 more police officers, I could start a homicide unit.”

“Wait, what?” I interrupted Cummings, who dropped the bombshell as calmly as someone saying they wish they had enough cash for another hot dog at the Phillies game.

“You don’t have a homicide unit?” I asked.

“No, sir,” was the quick response without even a hint of embarrassment.

I’m no detective, but I think I just solved the case of why Wilmington has had such an increase in crime over the past few years – you can quite literally get away with murder.

Cumming was quick to point out that a homicide unit doesn’t prevent murders. True. But when a killer knows there is good chance his crime won’t be solved, there is little reason to think twice before pulling the trigger.

The City of Wilmington is only authorized to have 320 police officers. Any increase in size would have to be approved by the mayor and City Council. There is no sign that is going to happen anytime soon.

When Cummings was sworn in on May 30th, the department was 16 short of the 320. He is filling those positions now and wants everyone out on the streets, including the brass, including himself. Cummings believes that a police presence in the neighborhoods will help restore trust and cooperation.

Wilmington had an embarrassing incident earlier this year when the names of people cooperating with police were leaked on Instagram. Tips to the Wilmington police are supposed to remain anonymous. It is believed someone inside the department leaked the names.

For that reason, the new chief has been handing out his business card asking residents to call him directly if they have information.

The personal effort is impressive, but a little desperate. Cummings, a 29-year veteran of the force wants to make the city safer, but knows he has huge obstacles to overcome within his department and within city government.

That is not so say that a larger police force is always the answer. When Camden was the perennial leader in national crime, it had a police force of 460 police officers to service just a slightly larger population that Wilmington. The force was finally dissolved and a Camden County police department now patrols the city. So far, the move has been effective.

At its current staffing, the Wilmington force has a police officer for every 235 people in the city. That is about the same as Philadelphia that has an officer for every 231 people. New York has an officer for every 239 people in the city. So, per capita, Wilmington is on par with other cities and far ahead of some. Chief Cummings wants a police force of 370 officers for a population of just over 71,000. Bakersfield, California, for instance, has 349 officers to protect and serve a population of 330,000.

If Chief Cummings gets his wish, Wilmington will have a police officer for every 192 citizens. Of the nation’s top twenty cities, only Washington, D.C., would have a larger per capita force, with an officer for every 153 citizens. However, Atlantic City, NJ, with a population of fewer than 40,000 has 330 officers or an officer for every 119 people, making it one of the biggest per capita police departments in the country.

Of course, Washington swells with politicians and visiting dignitaries, AC swells with tourists. Wilmington just swells with crime.

Shootings are down so far this year in Wilmington by 45 percent, but murders are up by 100 percent. There were six in the city at this time last year. This year there are 12. The latest murder was Sunday night when 43-year-old Crystal Brown was hit by a stray bullet as she was carrying groceries out of a convenience store.

Not only do homicide detectives in Wilmington not have any leads, they don’t have any homicide detectives.

The answer to the problem seems to be an increase in the force somewhere between the chief’s request and the city mandate. Maybe the county and state need to get more involved and send officers and detectives, but something needs to be done and fast. As the summer heat intensifies, so does the violence.

Before the Delaware Legislature went on break, it bailed out the state’s three casinos to the tune of 10 million dollars a year over three years. That would have been more that enough money to give Chief Cummings his extra officers with some money left over for the schools. Unfortunately the kids and the crime-ridden neighborhoods of Wilmington can’t afford powerful lobbyists.

I always thought the No.  job of all elected public officials from the President on down to city council was and is to keep the citizens safe.

So now that I have finished my interview with the new Wilmington Police Chief, let me pose a question those in Delaware state, New Castle County and Wilmington city government, “How many residents in Wilmington have to die before you staff a homicide unit? Or at the very least, do something?”

You can watch Larry Mendte's interview with Wilmington's Police Chief on The Delaware Way Saturday Night at 7:00 on MeTV Channel 2 and then again at 9 AM on Sunday

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  • Dick_Wolf

    Since your comparison showed they are not understaffed, wouldn’t the common sense follow up question be, “Why don’t you take the best of your current officers that are in burglary, traffic etc. and move em on over to a newly formed Homocide Unit?”

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  • Jon

    I was born and raised in Wilmington (city, not suburbs) and I know the Delaware Valley well (which includes Philadelphia and Camden as well). I’d say the ONE thing that makes Camden and Wilmington different is the one thing that is perhaps the reason that drastic action is not being taken (like in Camden). While shootings are up, they are still concentrated in the areas of the city that have suffered crime and shootings for decades That is in contrast to Camden… as nearly all of Camden was suffering from high crime and shootings, and perhaps FORCED the state and county to take more action. In Wilmington, West Center City and Eastside (or Eastlawn depending on who you’re talking to) are the hot spots. And nearly all of the shootings have been there. In fact, there are many parts of Wilmington that are quite nice (Trolley Square, Baynard Blvd Historic District, Highlands, Union Park Gardens, Riverfront). Perhaps that is the reason that the county and state are not acting with urgency. There is a LOT wrong with that on many levels, and it could ultimately be too late once they DO act. Just a theory, but I’d bet there is some truth to it, on many accounts.

    • Larry Mendte

      Good Post Jon. You are right and Cummings admitted as much.

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    • DelSil

      Jon, love your post. I grew up on Broom Street across from Salesianum and really never had any problems there and is still a decent area to live. Growing up in that area, I always knew a half mile south towards Market Street and the east number streets was never a great area. I think it has gotten worse in that area but all the areas you mentioned that are nice, still are, even though my dad’s friend got held up outside his home in Wawaset park in the middle of the day last year. They found the guys living…on the east side. One thing I noticed as I had to go over towards Todds Lane and Gov Printz last week for a construction project is that there are no city cameras. Maybe that would help as well.

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  • Charliefoxtrot

    spending thousands on lab time to solve a murder committed by another likely murderer or felon…..hmmm. Seems to me these dudes know the risks.

  • Former resident

    It’s a shame that the police force can’t get the money for what is much needed. I still can’t believe that they bailed out the casinos but left this matter and unemployment hanging by the wayside. If people don’t have income then their next move usually is crime. Taxes are being raised but not being used for things that are needed…education, jobs. Wake up Wilmington

    • livinginfear

      When mayor hopeful Williams asked a potential voter what was the most important issues in Wilmington ,she said Job Opportunities? and he said Wrong! Crime is !Of course, he doesn’t follow the reasoning of economic stability in a metropolitan area.If any drug dealer can drive in from neighboring states unhindered, and make a profit from our young peoples future, we are losing our way.There is potential for our city for greatness but we are held back by pettiness , low self esteem,and no ideas for the future.

  • CAPTAIN

    Just ANOTHER GOT YOU INTERVIEW. OBVIOUSLY You DIDN’T HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF INTERVIEWING THE CHIEFS PREDECESSOR OR YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN PRIVY OF THE NO HOMICIDE UNIT REVELATION. THE DAYS OF KOJAK, COLUMBO Etc SIMILAR TO THE ME TV CURRICULUM DOESN’T EXIST . ONE HOMICIDE IS TOO MANY IN ANY CITY OR TOWN . FOR The SAKE OF DISCUSSION TO DECLARE WILMINGTON DELAWARE THE MOST DANGEROUS IN AMERICA IS RIDICULOUS BASED ON POPULATION. CITIES LIKE CHICAGO, DALLAS, PHILADELPHIA MURDER MORE PEOPLE LAST WEEKEND THAN WILMINGTON HAS IN THREE OR MORE YEARS. SEE IF YOU CAN FIGURE OUT THE MOST DANGEROUS HOUSE IN WILMINGTON. THIS IS NOT A SPORTING EVENT, WITH WHO’S FIRST PERCENTAGE WISE BY POPULATION. THESE STATISTICS ARE AN INSULT TO EVERY VICTIM OF MURDER NATIONWIDE. AS For POLICE AND ANY EMPLOYMENT PROMOTE GOOD EMPLOYEES AND DEMOTE THE OTHERS INCLUDING REPORTERS/INTERVIEWERS. FINALLY WILMINGTON IS NOT THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE IN AMERICA, AMERICA IS FRIEND.

    • CEMOM315

      The numbers are the numbers. I don’t think anyone is trying to offend anyone by stating the facts. More people are killed per capita in Wilmington, DE than any other place in America. Living in denial of this is one of the problems.

      • Captain

        I’LL BE BRIEF THE NUMBERS ARE ACTUALLY PEOPLE. WILMINGTON Delaware IS Not THE POSTER CHILD FOR A MURDEROUS NATION BUT IS A SHAMEFUL REFLECTION OF THE USA CRIMINAL ELEMENTS. MOREOVER THE PER CAPITA BRIGADE HAS FAILED TO MOVE SMALL TOWNS WHO SUFFERED AT THE HANDS OF MASS MURDERERS TO NUMBER ONE STATUS OF SMALL TOWN AMERICA LISTINGS.IRRATIONAL RATIONALE HAS NO PLACE IN THIS AMERICAN NIGHTMARE. EXAMPLE PURPOSES ONLY WILMINGTON OR PHILADELPHIA WITH ALL THINGS BEING CONSIDERED I RATHER BE IN WILMINGTON…

      • //r 5|-|4rP

        You are wrong! It is the most dangerous SMALL city populations between 50-75000.

        http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/03/27/report-wilmington-dangerous-small-city-country/

  • Matt Tower

    the problem wont be solved by more cops….. the city dept has been in trouble for years…. lack of pay, lack of leadership, lack of direction, and now lack of results…… the reality is the dept doesn’t support its officers…so they won’t work hard and invest in the hard work of dealing with this crime. it’s not a crime wave, Wilmington has ebbed and flowed like this for twenty years. The city has no plan even…..its sad to see. The city should bring in someone from the outside (to be chief) who is willing to do what is required. ie,,,, clear out the lazy, the unwilling, and the dirty. I don’t know,,,, maybe develop a plan to attack this problem….Sadly, knowing Delaware politics, I’d say the chances of that are very unlikely.

    Jon is right, these problems are limited to small geographic areas…. hmmmm…. if that’s the case,,,, why aren’t the police all over this? because they aren’t supported, motivated and led, that’s why. the good officers are overworked and not supported properly. Wilmington PD has done great things for many years, but now they find themselves at a tipping point. Will they be innovative and effective or go with same old same old and fail?

    • Shirley Inman Shea

      Crime issues are rooted in specific locations but are flowing out all over the city…You are so right about lack of leadership, lack of support and good leadership.

  • Ann

    Not to mention the collateral damage – the children who have to live in fear, but are still expected to perform with excellence on the state assessment in school. We are not only literally killing people on the streets of Wilmington, we are figuratively killing the future of Wilmington by default.

    • dnabrice

      What’s wrong with pushing students to strive for excellence?

  • Jasøn Cøøper

    As someone who grew up in and around the city of Wilmington, and still
    has a number of friends who still live there, I wish I could have some
    sort of empathy for them, but I can’t.

    As Jon pointed out the
    violence for the most part is contained to the lower income areas of the
    city. Because it’s contained there, sadly most people really don’t
    care. Until the violence does start to spread to the nicer areas nothing will change. That or someone from outside of Wilmington is killed. And it almost seems like the people who do live in those areas aren’t willing to do anything about it themselves.
    If they aren’t willing to cooperate with the police, police there own
    neighbor hoods, speak out, etc… how can you feel bad for them?

    Making
    the situation even worse is the fact that the mayor, his cabinet and
    city council are a bunch of jacka$$es… They are constantly in
    gridlock with one another over petty issues. The mayor’s cabinet wants
    raises so the can keep their houses in Hockesin (so they don’t have to
    live in the city they are suppose to be cleaning up) and keep an
    apartment in the city to keep their jobs as mandated. Worse of all, a
    number of the members of city council don’t try to come up with a
    solution for the problem, the try to explain it and justify it with
    ridiculous answers. The best or worse explanation for the violence
    being that it is caused by PTSD due to slavery (seriously, they asked
    the CDC to come and investigate (which is even more ridiculous because
    it’s not a contagious disease)
    (http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/delaware-feature/62558-slavery-at-the-root-of-wilmingtons-gun-violence).

    Until
    the people in the inflicted areas are willing to stand up for
    themselves and city gov get their heads out of their backsides nothing
    will change. Until they realize by trying to make stupid excuses for
    the violence doesn’t help come up with a solution, but simply helps
    justify the violence they are doomed; 50 or 1,000,000 new police
    officers won’t make a difference…..

  • Chuck

    I believe that Wilmington is also such a dangerous place because it is a hub on a wheel of drug activity between Philly , NYC and Baltimore …. these 3 large city are all similar distance from Wilmington where drugs can be distributed easily to each

    • Shirley Inman Shea

      And Chuck you add to the discussion a very good point which in fact is accurate.

      • Larry Mendte

        Yes, especially Heroin. There is a section of the City called Heroin way.

  • Larry Mendte

    Never said it was leaked by police, but it is “believed” to be leaked by someone in the department. And there are man who believe just that. There is a push to get background checks for those taking the anonymous tip calls.

  • Dick_Wolf

    It is disingenuous for them to say they “can’t” do it because it’s how every police department in the country staffs a Homicide Unit. Departments are flying in Homicide Units, they are promoting officers to the Homicide Unit. They can insist they WON’T do that, but that simply means they are prioritizing one crime over another.

  • Randy Broadwater

    Watch the meetings (or shams thereof) on the Internet of the Wilmington City Council held this week (Monday and last night). You will see firsthand what the egotistical Council thinks of public safety. (The City Council cut the Fire Department budget and staffing yet again. The Fire Chief was not allowed to speak at either meeting.)

  • Mike Cooper

    It’s nice you brought in bailout money. If the city were to receive the bailout money, after the three years were up, where would the city get the money to continue the officer’s pay, benefits, etc…?
    They wouldn’t, you knew that. You know it would fall on the state to continue funding the new unit.
    And after the three years was over, many jobs in the casinos would have been lost, many jobs in the racing industry would have been lost, and on and on…

    • Larry Mendte

      Would those jobs really have been lost? Why doesn’t the state allow more competition. They limit the number of Casinos and then bailout Casinos that are failing. Let the market decide and there may end up being more jobs…if a Casino goes under so be it. I have a friend who has an auto repair shop that is not doing well, should the state bail him out. If a Casino starts costing you money out of the General Fund, it is a direct contradiction to the reason a state allows Casino gambling in the first place.

      • Mike Cooper

        Yes, the jobs will be lost. And the reason isn’t because of any bailout but because of high taxes.
        I don’t agree with any bailout; they need to lower the taxes, plain and simple.

        • Larry Mendte

          The revenue sharing is why the state’s like casino gambling.

          My point on the jobs is that there is no guarantee in the bailout that jobs won’t be lost anyway.

          It is a misnomer to think that because casino goes under, another won’t be in to take its place. In fact, open up competition. Another thing the existing Casinos fought.

          The bailout deal stinks to high heaven. And how about the fact that at least three legislators are casino board members and did not recuse themselves.

  • Mike

    Crime stats should be looked at by the MSA or whole metro area which would also include Chester, Philly, Camden etc. It really is one big area. If you looked at crime stats for DC without including outlying MD counties or NYC without North Jersey you would just be fooling yourself. Official city borders are arbitrary lines as a means of looking at crime rates…I get that this concerns city budgets and resources but…

  • Daisy

    The New Castle County Police and Delaware State Police have their hands full in their own jurisdictions. They don’t have “extra” officers to send into Wilmington. The County and State have “Been there, done that” and it’s not the answer. I was in the city of Wilmington for an entire Summer myself (which is how I know first-hand) and joined the extended effort.

    • Shirley Inman Shea

      Policing and tactics in the suburbian areas is entirely different that in the city. I have relatives on both forces….it is night and day. Not a lack of effort. but very different

  • JukeJointJimmee

    A black majority city with a black mayor, a predominantly black city council and a black police chief.Tells you all you ever need to know. No city has ever, in the history of the universe, been a successful city where people want to go with that combination.

    • Browntown

      Larry Mendte,
      In Wilmington the stats say it all. The stats are racist. Wilmington is 60% Black, 40% White, there are some concentrated neighborhoods.
      The 60% neighbor hoods are responsible for 99% of the shootings and Gun related KILLINGS. We are up to 14 deaths by gun, and 1 by knife.
      There is denial everywhere. The local paper, only describes the clothes that the shooter wears. Really?
      The neighborhoods, have a no snitching rule. What is repeated, is thet the friends and family of the victim are the few who occasionally cry for help from witnesses, but they are silent when it is someone else who is a victim.
      I blame the entitlement culture that local churches preach, someone owes me. The churches do not preach self respect and or respect for others. There is no religious morality. The churches preach, entitlement, and constantly blame other facets, instead of holding the shooters responsible for killing another person.
      I am a lifelong city resident. The deterioration of this city, follows the deteriorating demographics ( race ) , but that is not politically correct to say.

  • sandra Ben

    Its going to take the policemen and the COmmunity to make a change..not just one man by himself. We should all be willing to help and join in a neighborhood watch…S.U.N.(Safe United Neighborhoods) is committed to keeping our communities Safe and clean especially in the Northeast

  • Hamburger Helper

    The cops here are too soft and let out of state plates run up and down the highway at high rates of speed. Wilmington sucks all the crime out of Philly.

  • //r 5|-|4rP

    Did the author even read the article he cited? Wilmington is the most dangerous SMALL city. They used the 50-75000 population range. Camden is just over with 77,000 and the murder rate is double Wilmington with 72,000 people.

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