While homicides in the city are high, Fayetteville’s overall crime rate is down compared with this time last year, according to a November report presented by Police Chief Gina Hawkins to the Fayetteville City Council.
Hawkins and members of the Fayetteville Police Department presented the city’s third-quarter statistics, covering January through Sept. 30, during the council’s Nov. 8 meeting.
Crimes against persons and properties were at 10,771 for the time period, compared with 12,492 such cases in 2020.
Homicides and suicides increase
Through September this year, the city has had 32 homicides compared with 23 during the same time frame in 2020.
Homicides are a concern, said Maj. Robert Spatorico, who oversees the department’s Field Operations Bureau Investigative Division.
“Our detectives are working diligently to solve the cases we have open,” Spatorico said.
Investigators are also analyzing each crime to determine if there are any trends.
Spatorico said there are eight open homicide cases in which investigators do not know who the suspect is. Two other cases have detectives have identified a person of interest or the person of interest had died.
“We have a pretty good idea who we think did it, but that and proving it are two different things,” Spatorico said.
One of the homicides involved a suspect dying during a home invasion.
Of the 32 homicides through September, he said, 19 of the cases resulted in arrests.
Spatorico said robbery and drug-related motives are at the top of the causes of homicides.
“We find many cases (are) a robbery or drug deals gone bad or home invasions ... where drug dealers are being robbed by other drug dealers,” he said.
The department’s task force has recovered $139,092 in drug cases and seized 17 guns, he said.
Other motives for homicides are ongoing disputes, retaliation and domestic violence, Spatorico said.
Tisha Waddell, who was still on the council at the time of the presentation before her Nov. 9 resignation, was concerned about the homicide's impact on the community.
“I think often this body is asked how we are going to address the rise in things like murder in our community, and it leaves many of us scratching our head because we don't have an answer to that,” Waddell said. "And theoretically, there is no answer to that, because what we're seeing is it's tied into a number of different things.”
Waddell asked how authorities are ensuring the public that the deaths aren’t random acts of violence.
“We don't want a community that is afraid to go to the park or a community that is afraid to sit on their front porch and enjoy the sunrise or the sunset for fear that somebody is going to randomly assault them,” she said.
Hawkins said the department is transparent with its data and information it provides to the community.
Though homicides have increased, she said it’s not an “anomaly” happening just in Fayetteville.
She said there are efforts to take guns off the street
“It's very difficult to be in someone's house where a homicide or suicide is occurring and prevent that,” Hawkins said. “If we could do it, trust me, we will be doing that.”
Hawkins said there are still efforts to figure out how to address crimes like aggravated assaults, robberies and efforts to get guns of the streets along with campaigns to educate kids and have community watch groups.
In crimes against property, Hawkins said robberies increased but all other categories decreased.
Spatorico said that in an effort to be proactive, the department is spreading public service announcements for residents to meet in safe zones if they are meeting someone from the internet to make a sale.
Spatorico said officers are also working with federal partners to get “violent prolific offenders off the streets,” with six of those cases resulting in federal sentences and 14 having indictments or pending court action.
Lt. Brett Chandler, who is over the department’s violent crimes unit, spoke about one of those cases.
The violent crimes unit is a five-man team that works with detectives on cases with warrants for violent crimes and locates the suspects, resulting in 188 arrests this year, Chandler said.
The gang unit, another five-man team, also falls under the violent crimes unit and has three main missions of education, community awareness and enforcement.
In working with the state’s Violent Crime Initiative program, Chandler said $10,000 in cash, narcotics and guns were seized along with nine arrests in early November.
Hawkins said rapes and aggravated assaults are down. The number of rapes went from 119 in 2020 to 111 this year, while aggravate assaults went from 830 last year to 817 this year, she said.
Drug overdose concerns
Councilwoman Shakeyla Ingram asked what leads a person to commit a violent crime.
Spatorico said some cases involve drug dealers robbing other drug dealers.
“There's probably a lot of those that happen that we never hear about because someone isn’t hurt or killed,” he said.
Hawkins said the department’s narcotics unit has seen an increase in the seizure of fentanyl, cocaine and marijuana.
Councilman D.J. Haire raised concerns about 62 drug overdoses in the city in 2020 and 61 so far this year.
He asked how officials can communicate with families about those cases and how residents might be able to share information about specific cases.
“Even though they're passed and gone and buried, ... families are still suffering, communities are still suffering, communities are still asking questions,” Haire said.
Hawkins said Crimestoppers allows residents to provide anonymous tips, which she said officials follow up on to verify if they could help an officer establish probable cause.
Some of the officers in those cases aren’t always seen, because “they're kind of undercover doing their work,” Hawkins said.
When investigators are on a death scene, she said they try to be on the lookout for clues that might indicate who a drug seller is.
“Most of the time for an overdose, we have nothing, unless a family member knows who the seller is,” she said.
Investigators can look at the packaging that may be at the scene or a phone to try to identify a seller, but Hawkins said more evidence is needed.
Most overdose cases involve fentanyl, with it being distributed many ways in the community, she said.
Responding to Councilman Larry Wright’s question about the department using gunshot technology, Hawkins said the council approved funding for technology under the city’s violent crime prevention initiative.
The technology would alert authorities to gunfire as it occurs before 911 calls are made.
Hawkins said city officials are in the evaluation stage of the purchasing process to determine if the technology needs to go out for bid or not, and it would also need to go through the city’s information technology department.
Hawkins said she hopes to incorporate the technology by January but said that’s not a definitive date.
Mayor Mitch Colvin asked about the city’s surveillance cameras, and Hawkins said 10 are on a pole and the vendor that is installing the cameras is in the midst of a licensing process for the other cameras.
Wright asked about what the community can do to assist the department in crimes of retaliation and gaining community involvement when some residents don’t “want to be a snitch."
Hawkins said one of the city’s crime prevention initiatives is to hire and train “violence interrupters,” who are members of the community and gain community trust, while trying to de-escalate situations and provide resources.
Ingram asked about involving other entities like the county, district attorney and court system to partner “in dealing with the issue.”
She also asked about workforce development.
"I would like us to pick that conversation back up with pulling in our DAs and pulling in our judges to see what exactly can happen to help with these circumstantial reasons people turn to violent crimes and crimes against people,” Ingram said.
Hawkins said there has been a community summit to draw ideas from other communities. She said the summit also looked at the issue of “where crime or violence comes from” and looked at community solutions such as using hospital resources.
County partners, health care providers and representatives from the university, schools and faith communities were also present, she said.
Colvin said he is also having ongoing conversations with the district attorney, attorney general, superior court judge and district court chief judge about the issue.
Concerns with police department morale
Another concern for Waddell was tied to department morale.
“Everybody has days where they don’t like their boss or their coworkers (are) on their nerves, but most people don’t take to extreme measures in those types of situations,” Waddell said. “I believe that we’ve seen some extreme measures here lately.”
Hawkins said she and the department’s leadership believe in empowerment, while advocating for needed equipment and looking at initiatives for retention.
She said she meets with supervisors of all levels for feedback.
“Leadership training, focusing on how to do what you need to be successful in your job, are all these things that we offer, but empowering employees to speak up if you hear something, if you think you're not being treated right, is all we can offer,” Hawkins said.
Waddell recommended adding another level for the city manager and council to work out details for a force survey.
“I'm disturbed by the fact that there could be a member of our elite police department who may or may not be so disgruntled that they would go to some of the lengths that we've seen as of late, and I just want to make sure that if we have a situation like that, we are identifying it and we are dealing with it quickly,” she said.
Hewett said he, the chief and the human resources department are looking into it.
“I do owe it to you, the community, and owe it to the department to make sure that I can make sure I have a pulse on that morale, whether it's good or bad or otherwise and that's something that we'll be focusing on,” he said.
Hawkins said the department has held community engagement and movie nights and worked with the Cumberland County school district to secure a $40,000 grant for 400 intruder defense systems in schools.
Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-486-3528.
This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Fayetteville City Council gets update on homicides, other crime stats