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Port City United outlines plan to tackle violence in Wilmington area | #schoolshooting


The leader of a newly-formed division of New Hanover County aimed at tackling communitywide violence discussed the program’s progress and future Friday. 

New Hanover County established Port City United earlier this year as one of nine community initiatives aimed at addressing violence. Conversations about violence have been ongoing for decades in the Port City, but they came to a head last fall following a shooting at New Hanover High School.

Over the next three years, New Hanover County plans to spend more than $3.5 million on Port City United as they invest in staffing the department, creating programming and up-fitting office space in the county’s 320 Chestnut St. building.

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The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners approved funding for Port City United and other community initiatives in January. In March, the county named Cedric Harrison as the department’s director. Harrison grew up in Wilmington and founded the nonprofit organization Support the Port.

Since then, the county has hired a total of 20 department employees with plans to hire at least six more people, according to Alex Riley, New Hanover County’s communications and outreach coordinator.

Plans for Port City United, which draw upon elements of Durham’s Bull City United and the Cure Violence model, break down into three primary components, which Harrison outlined during Friday’s press conference.

The first part of the program is a violence interruption team that will spend shifts walking through certain Wilmington neighborhoods known for high incidents of violent crime.

“We’ll be canvassing certain neighborhoods … areas where poverty is high, crime is high,” Harrison said. “Usually, those are the same locations for a lot of different reasons.”

Port City United doesn’t have an established relationship with law enforcement, including the Wilmington Police Department, Harrison said. 

“So far, when we’ve reached out for data, we haven’t received any of that yet,” he said. “So we’re hoping to build a better relationship over time.”

Harrison said Port City United hopes to eventually use police data to confirm where shootings and other violent crimes are happening in the area. They also plan to alert police to areas they think crimes might occur to deter crimes from happening.

Harrison said the department plans to focus their efforts on areas they know from lived experience are impacted by violent crime, including public housing communities and Wilmington’s Northside, Southside and Eastside.

“Right now, we’re just going off of the intel that we have of where we know a lot of shootings have occurred over the years of our experience looking here in Wilmington,” Harrison said.

The violence interruption team will work to form relationships with people in these neighborhoods and try to connect those in need with resources. They will also gather information and data about the communities they serve, Harrison said.

The second feature of the program is a resource support center that will be staffed 24 hours a day with call takers who process crime tips or connect callers with the resources they need. 

The calls can be taken anonymously, Harrison said, although the details of the call logging system are yet to be fully worked out. Information gathered in the calls would not be public or available by public request, Jessica Loeper, New Hanover County’s chief communication officer, added. 

The program’s third feature will be a group of community resource coordinators that will be split between New Hanover County’s seven most at-risk schools. The coordinators will serve in an array of roles, including as mentors, caseworkers and mediators.

Last week, the department announced partnerships with Communities In Schools of Cape Fear, Voyage, and Leading Into New Communities or LINC.

Port City United will hire 22 coordinators, funded by New Hanover County, who will work to connect students and their families to community resources and provide intensive case management to help meet students’ educational, nutritional, health and social needs, according to a press release about the partnership.

Many of those hired by Port City United have personal histories intertwined with violence and some have past ties to local gangs. But those experiences, Harrison said, is what can help build trust and credibility for the program.

“Because of the things that they’ve done to make themselves credible amongst their peers, we want to use that leverage. We want to be able to use those folks as the first change agents to what’s going on,” Harrison said.  “Because he can, you can too — that type of thing.”

The existing community relationships will help them establish trust within Wilmington’s neighborhoods, even though they now represent New Hanover County.

“We’ve only been government employees for like three or four weeks now, we’ve been members of the community for all our lives,” Harrison said.

Port City United plans to have its violence interruption team out on the streets by the end of May and the call center up and running at the beginning of June.

Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or edill@gannett.com.



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