Gun incidents on the rise in Franklin

Published 11:45 am Saturday, January 13, 2018

The city of Franklin saw a 40-percent increase in firearm incidents in 2017 over 2016, according to data provided by Capt. Tim Whitt, spokesman for the police department.

Click to enlarge. Illustration by Stephen Faleski.

In 2017, Franklin police responded to a total of 90 firearm-related incidents, including one murder in which a gun was used, 52 reports of shots fired and 37 weapons violations. By comparison, in 2016 officers responded 49 reports of shots fired and 15 weapons violations, for a total of 64 firearms incidents for that year. No murders were committed within city limits that year.

In 2015, police responded to two murder scenes, only one of which involved a firearm, 28 reports of shots fired and 31 weapons violations, for a total of 60 firearms incidents.

A list of each individual shots fired report in 2017, which police also shared with The Tidewater News, showed a total of 75 such incidents for the year. However, Whitt said that these were only instances in which a trigger was pulled.

Police Chief Phil Hardison intends to present these findings and additional details regarding the city’s seemingly high crime rate to the city’s council during its meeting on Monday, Jan. 22. The chief will also likely bring up the department’s ongoing manpower difficulties.

“We’re extremely shorthanded as far as manpower,” Whitt said. “Officers are working very hard and doing the best they can.”

When asked if there was any way to tell where the guns used in crimes had originated, Whitt said that the department conducts an ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) trace every time officers recover a firearm, but so far no commonality has been found as to a source.

As for where a majority of the violence was occurring, Whitt’s data showed 10 separate firearms incidents this past year in the vicinity of the Dorchester Square Apartments. An additional 10 separate incidents were all in the vicinity of the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority office on Cameron Street. Another six all occurred along West Second Avenue and four occurred off of Forest Pine Road.

“We can’t pin any of it down to gang violence,” Whitt said. “The majority of it is criminals being totally irresponsible with firearms.”

Councilwoman Mary Hilliard, who represents ward five of the city, which includes the Dorchester Square Apartments, said that gun violence was a growing concern for her, and also suggested that the number of total incidents may even be underreported.

“I believe some hear gunshots and they don’t call [the police],” she said.

Roughly one third of the 75 incidents in which shots were fired occurred in ward three of the city. Councilman Greg McLemore, ward three representative, said he felt one solution might be to have more community policing, which he defined to mean officers who live in Franklin and who know the people in the areas they patrol.

“Not people from out of town,” he said. “People don’t talk to them. They need a rapport with the community.”

Councilman Benny Burgess, who represents ward two of the city, said he had been made aware of firearm incidents in his ward, particularly in the vicinity of the city’s public housing on Cameron Street, but chose to reserve specific comments for after Chief Hardison’s presentation to council.

“I’m concerned about it,” he said. “That’s one of the reason’s we’re meeting with the chief so we can find out what the problem is and what’s the answer.”

The Hunterdale area of the city seems to have largely been spared, with only one incident being reported in the vicinity of Chaucer Court.

“Quite frankly one [incident] is too many,” said Mayor Frank Rabil. “We’ve got to find a way to understand better why and what do we do about it. As a community we have to come together and find opportunities to address the situation; it’s a community/city opportunity to address the situation, not just one ward.”

Maj. Gene Drewery, chief deputy and spokesman for the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, said the department responded to four reports of shots fired throughout 2017 in the parts of Southampton County that have a Franklin zip code, but deputies found no indication of gunfire in each instance.

When asked what legislative solutions the city could potentially take to deal with the uptick in gun violence, City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV said that local ordinances dealing with weapons are  listed under section 31 of the city code. Current ordinances on the books prohibit the carrying of a concealed weapon without a permit within city limits, carrying a weapon in a place of worship, delivering a weapon to someone under 18 years of age, carrying a loaded weapon in any vehicle on any public street or highway, and discharging a firearm within city limits.

“If people would abide by those rules right there, we wouldn’t have any weapons violations,” Williams said. “It’s not how many ordinances you have, it’s really about people abiding by the law.

“If somebody on city council says they want the city to take a look at an ordinance to do something with gun control we can certainly look at adding additional laws to the code, but that really is of use to us only after the fact when the law has been broken.”