Kent lawmakers look to CDC report on violence for answers

DOVER — Spurred by deteriorating conditions in Dover, a record-setting pace of homicides and overall gun violence besieging Delaware’s capital city, local legislators are looking beyond law enforcement to help maintain public safety.

A Nov. 13 letter to Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf requested analysis into how a recently released Centers for Disease Control report regarding epidemic gun violence in Wilmington and its root causes can be applied to similarly plagued Dover.

Besides a record-setting seven homicides in Dover this year, the city police department said responses to shootings and shots fired complaints are up 60 percent from the same January to Nov. 10 time frame in 2014. In 2015, officers have investigated 16 shootings and 174 shots fired reports.

Rep. Andria Bennett

Rep. Andria Bennett

State Reps. Sean Lynn and Andria Bennett believe that while Wilmington’s ills currently are proceeding on a larger scale, enough similarities to Dover exist that the CDC study conclusions may be relevant to their own communities.

In the letter, Reps. Lynn and Bennett requested assistance in determining just what recommendations to Wilmington could benefit Dover as well. They described the 15-page CDC report as a “road map for Wilmington” that could aid their own city.

Immediate action is needed as the violence continues, legislators believe.

“My hometown of Dover has experienced unprecedented gun violence this year, with fatal shootings happening at a record pace,” Reps. Lynn and Bennett wrote.

“This is something unfamiliar to our city, and it is something many feel must be addressed now. We must stem this tide before it gets worse.”

In an interview last week, Rep. Bennett gave credit to Rep. Lynn for authoring the letter.

“It was addressing a very important ongoing situation here locally and I signed it because of what it was asking for,” she said.

Rep. Sean Lynn

Rep. Sean Lynn

Rep. Lynn said he was first contacted by Dover City Council President Tim Slavin regarding the study and its possible interest here.

The CDC study regarding Wilmington concluded that most of the illegal gun violence activity is perpetrated by “young men with a range of adverse life events — poverty, a history of abuse, a family history of addiction, or a lack of education or employment.

“Many of those adverse events, the researchers found, had been repeated during their lives and preceded the commission of a gun crime …”

Future inclusion

The representatives acknowledged the CDC report was two years in the making and a similar study on Dover was not currently possible, but requested that the city “be included in any further studies, data-gathering or implementation of these recommendations.”

The letter continued with, “I realize that this is a serious undertaking, but I also believe that doing nothing opens the door for a bad situation in Dover to further deteriorate … I would be happy to answer any questions you have or discuss this further with you.”

According to the legislators, Health and Human Services now is working to “establish a community advisory board for Wilmington to conduct an inventory of existing social services in the city.”

The CDC’s study of Wilmington came after a June 2014 request from the State of Delaware’s Division of Public Health, which was preceded by Wilmington Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz’s resolution for CDC analysis in January 2014 and Mayor Dennis P. Williams’ official request. CDC researched Wilmington between June 2014 and March 2015.

In 2013, Wilmington’s shootings went up nearly 45 percent from the previous two years, with 127 incidents involving 154 victims among an overall population of 71,525, according to the CDC. The CDC also noted that “rates of violent crime in Wilmington are higher than in nearby cities of Dover, Newark, and Philadelphia.”

The report is posted on the Health and Human Services’ website at dhss.delaware.gov.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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