SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Federal assistance is coming to Salisbury during November when the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs sends team members to meet with Salisbury Police Jerry Stokes and other stakeholders in the community.
"They'll be talking to the community, they'll be talking to police department folks, they'll be talking to city staff as well, city manager," Chief Stokes told WBTV. "They will begin their work on November 8 and 9. We are already scheduling a number of community members who will meet with them. I've been in discussions with Gemale Black who is the local NAACP president, I've been talking to Rowan Chamber of Commerce director, Rowan Helping Ministries, homelessness is something that we're concerned about. We're trying to get quite a wide variety of people to talk to so they'll really understand the community."
According to the chief, the assistance will focus on specific areas, including the opioid crisis, violent crime, community engagement, and the low clearance rate of homicides and gun crimes.
The program works by the DOJ OJP Diagnostic Center gathering data from the city. That information includes crime statistics and detailed demographic information.
Once they've analyzed the date and spoken to community members, the Diagnostic Center "employs cross-disciplinary technical assistance to diagnose, implement and assess the community's justice issue."
For example, Chief Stokes provided information about the city's homicide rate. Between 2014 and 2016 there were 20 homicides of which 8 resulted in an arrest. In 2017 there have been 7 homicides reported in Salisbury. All 7 have been cleared with an arrest.
"What were the barriers that prevented us from making an arrest or bringing a person to trial," Chief Stokes asked. "Was it specifically a witness issue where people were unwilling to cooperate? Where did that come from?"
Those are the types of questions that Chief Stokes hopes this assistance can help to answer.
The DOJ OJP is currently working in more than 60 communities across the country, including Fayetteville and Durham in North Carolina.
The program works on a timetable of about three years, according to Chief Stokes.
Chief Stokes requested the assistance after learning of the program through someone in the community with a law enforcement background.
"This is not a revamp of the police department," Chief Stokes pointed out. "Folks are doing really great work here, this is making sure we are in the right direction and where can we find the technical and training assistance that we need to make ourselves better…it's not a revamp, it's not oversight by the DOJ, this is assistance in tackling crime and other issues in our community."
The program is offered free and is funded by the federal government.