WILMINGTON — Mayor John Stanforth has outlined new initiatives in response to the growing vagrancy concerns throughout the city.
“I must take action to address the legitimate health and safety concerns of our citizens regarding the increase in the vagrant population and the criminal activities associated with their lifestyle,” said Stanforth. “These may be short-term solutions, but I believe they will be impactful while the city and county work together for a long-term solution.
“Wilmington cannot wait for a solution tomorrow when there is an immediate need today. I am working closely with my administration, the police department, and the maintenance and repair department, along with numerous governmental and non-governmental agencies.”
Stanforth continued, “I have ordered the Maintenance and Repair Department (M&R) to prioritize the removal of encampments and honeysuckle on public spaces and encourage private property owners to do the same.
“Honeysuckle is a non-native, invasive vegetation that provides a natural shelter for encampments, littering, and vagrant-like behavior The removal of the brush and debris will improve visibility for police officers to patrol and prosecute trespassing and loitering.”
The M&R Department is continuing its work along Lytle Creek near Xidas Park and along the railroad tracks across from UDF.
“I have notified Police Chief (Ron) Cravens of my full support to use whatever measures available to control criminal behavior by utilizing our local and state laws,” stated Stanforth in a news release. “Through donations, the Wilmington Police Department recently received a Polaris side-by-side utility vehicle. Chief Cravens added that he is forming a dual response plan within his department to use the utility vehicle, in tandem with the upcoming drone program. This will help identify encampments and enhance our ability to patrol public spaces, including our parks and trails.
“Using this type of modern technology will improve our capability to protect our citizens by increasing patrol both on and off road. This approach is not only a response tool but also a crime prevention tool,” stated Cravens.
Mayor Stanforth asked Safety Service Director Brian Shidaker to guide law enforcement in implementing these initiatives through targeting criminal behavior.
“It’s important the city doesn’t criminalize homelessness, but all citizens should feel safe and secure in our public spaces,” stated Shidaker.
Stanforth added, “We should not be afraid in our private homes. We should be allowed to enjoy our parks and trails as law-abiding citizens without the fear of being confronted by vagrants. We continue to adjust our approach, including an increase in criminal trespassing charges. Thefts will not be tolerated and property owners who allow condemned properties to be utilized by vagrants will be prosecuted.”
Mayor Stanforth asked City Administrator Marian Miller to expedite the demolition of condemned properties.
“In partnership with the Clinton County Land Bank (CCLB), the city is funding additional demolition projects for vacant and condemned buildings,” said Miller. “For example, the former Sugartree Machine building has been a site of increased vagrant activity.
“The CCLB has worked diligently with the city to remove liens from the property and the building will be demolished this spring.” Miller added, “I am working with Terry Kerr, Code Enforcement Official, legal counsel, and the CCLB to identify blighted properties and expedite the legal process to bring them up to code.”
“This is a national health and safety concern that feels very personal at the local level,” said Stanforth. “We will continue to develop new strategies and encourage citizen feedback on the effectiveness of our efforts. It’s important our residents know how they can help.
“Report suspicious activity to the Police Department. Report encampments, code violations, or abandoned properties to the Code Enforcement Official or to my office directly. We share this challenge with neighboring communities but feel confident that these initiatives can move us in the right direction.”