Shots fired in many neighborhoods, robberies, break-ins and then a double homicide on New Year’s Day suggest more than a slight peak in criminal activity around the River City. There’s been a marked surge in local crime, and residents have reason to be concerned about it. More to the point, they want to know that local officials are doing something about it.
In fact, officials are doing something about it. Elizabeth City police are investigating crimes and perpetrators are being hunted down, processed and put in jail.
Granted, the more frequent appearance of flashing lights and the blast of sirens all point to a rash of criminal acts, but those sights and sounds also let residents know that local police are on the job.
That’s why we have to agree with Mayor Joe Peel that any public sentiment to rush out another gang and crime study committee is premature — at least for now. A spike in crime is just that — a spike from the normal — and not anything police or other public officials can plan for. It’s what they must react to.
Elizabeth City just hired a new head policeman, and, as it has turns out, Chief Eddie Buffaloe hasn’t had much time to break in that chief’s chair at the police station. Instead, he’s been hustling after the onslaught of crimes being committed on a fairly elevated level since his arrival. What we see so far are positive results. The quick arrest last week in the double homicide on Shepard Street is a good example of a quick-acting police force.
In addition to welcoming a new chief, the Elizabeth City Police Department has undergone a management reorganization which included the promotion of several of the force’s experienced officers and tasking them with additional responsibilities.
We believe those changes were long overdue and justified. And we also believe they will make the department a much better, more efficient crime-fighting unit. Last week’s quick arrest may be a sign that those changes are paying off.
Of course, police are still searching for perpetrators of other crimes who are still at-large, and the public is especially concerned about the open-air gunfire that has ratcheted up during the last several weeks. Residents don’t want to feel threatened in their homes, neighborhoods or on local streets. So, restoring a sense of personal security is a job that local police will have to achieve.
That may not happen overnight.
Given the spurt of crime the city has seen, there may be multiple triggers behind it. It’s a good bet that the poor economy, with lack of jobs, income and people desperate to get by, is one of the main drivers of local crime. Unfortunately, the economy is not going to change for a while.
Then there’s gang-related crime — a likely cause of the recent fusillade of gunfire across the city. Additionally, crime may be peaking for reasons that may not be so clear at this time.
For Elizabeth City police, knowing why people turn to criminal acts is certainly valuable information that may help prevent crime. Crime studies can help obtain that information. But that still leaves the job of responding to what is happening now.
Residents are looking to Chief Buffaloe and his reorganized department to make them feel safe again. Recent arrests illustrate that the department is certainly capable of doing that, even if it is going to take additional steps.
That’s why we believe the better course is — rather than add more public officials and community groups to the mix, and by doing so probably create more unwieldy planning and processes — allowing the new chief to attack this round of crime using his judgment and expertise and the experience of the men and women in the department.
Of course, the mayor, city council and city manager should have goals and expectations for local safety. They may want to appeal directly for public action and advise citizens about how to prevent crimes. Local community crimewatch groups may need to get more aggressive, too. The public can do much on its own or with a little guidance from city officials to keep criminals out of their neighborhoods.
Local officials also must monitor the success of the police force and insure they are getting results — meaning fewer incidents that shatter the sense of safety for residents.
If police cannot restore some peace of mind among residents within the next month, then perhaps a gang and crime committee is needed. But for now, residents must take precautions and let local police do their job.