Even after three shootings over the past three weeks, violent crime — except for cases of homicide — is down “across the board” in Fayetteville so far this year, says Police Chief Kemberle Braden.
Braden shared that assessment with City Council members on Aug. 7, then reiterated it at a special council meeting to discuss public safety on Aug. 16.
A spike in gun violence across Cumberland County has preceded recent conversations about public safety, including the updates Braden delivered last week.
Two of the recent shootings occurred Aug. 3. One, in the parking lot of Seabrook Park at 708 Langdon St., resulted in the driver of a Kia Optima crashing into the nearby swimming pool at Smith Recreation Center.
Braden said the incident followed an altercation that broke out during a vigil for family and friends of Lorenzo McLaughlin Jr., 22, who was shot to death July 29.
On July 30, police charged Devonte Tyrell McClain, 20, and his brother, Adriane McClain, 18, both of Fayetteville, with first-degree murder and felony conspiracy related to McLaughlin’s death. They are being held at the Cumberland County Detention Center under no bond.
The other shooting on Aug. 3 was at a Circle K gas station at 8191 Cliffdale Road. Police have not released additional information about the case.
Braden has said the investigation of the Seabrook Park shooting is ongoing.
Braden acknowledged preliminary year-to-date data for 2023 “doesn’t match the narrative of what we saw happen at Seabrook Park.”
According to Braden, homicides have increased slightly this year — 27 homicides last year at this time compared to 33 so far this year. He said last week that police have identified an offender in all but two of those cases and stressed the importance of considering the broader picture.
“We’re always going to be gauged on our number of murders,” Braden told CityView on Aug. 16. “But as we look at the other things — and murders are bad, there’s no doubt about that — are we having an effect across the board? I think we are.”
In the data he first presented earlier in the month, Braden cited a 9% decrease in crimes against individuals and 13.4% decrease in crimes against property. There also has been a 30% increase in weapons seized and an 8% decrease in stolen weapons compared to this time last year.
“When I say violent crime is down across the board … I’m talking about our most serious of events to include our shootings, shooting into occupied dwellings, aggravated assaults — both felony and misdemeanor,” Braden said. “And yes, we’re still out there working, solving every homicide that we can and trying to prevent any retaliatory violence that could result in a potential homicide in the future.”
At the same time, Braden said, there’s been a 61.5% increase in so-called crimes against society, which includes “victimless” crimes like drug possession and seizure of illegal weapons. He attributes the increase in these arrests to proactive police work that stops a crime from happening, such as by seizing an unauthorized weapon before a perpetrator can use it.
“I would say this is our officers showing that they’re doing more work out there,” Braden said. “They’re being more productive and more proactive, as opposed to waiting to have someone commit a crime and then go and arrest them for that crime. They’re doing stuff like taking the drugs out of their pockets or taking the gun out of their waistband.”
Elected officials’ criticism
Braden’s remarks come in the wake of concerns raised by elected officials about law enforcement’s ability to adequately handle incidents of gun violence, especially among teenagers. Some council members expressed doubt at last week’s meeting about whether the Fayetteville Police Department could single-handedly tackle gun violence, even with the implementation of many new crime-prevention programs.
“This cannot be solved by your department,” Mayor Mitch Colvin told Braden. “I don’t care how many police officers you get. I don’t care how great a job you are doing — and you guys are doing a good job. You cannot be expected to solve the woes of the problem of gun violence.”
Braden did not comment directly on the Seabrook Park shooting — it’s an ongoing investigation — but he shared some information about the circumstances that led to it. Officers responded within minutes of shots being fired there. Potential witnesses fled the scene by the time officers arrived, Braden said, but they were able to gather information using video from cameras installed at Seabrook Park.
According to Braden, detectives confirmed a conflict had taken place before violence broke out, ultimately leading to the driver of the Kia Optima crashing into the pool to evade gunshots.
“This wasn’t an incident where just out of the blue shots were being fired,” Braden said. “There were things that led up to this incident. People were in the area to celebrate, have a balloon release for a memorial for someone who had suffered violent crime himself. There was an argument on site; tempers were heated.
“I think there was an opportunity had the police (been) called that an intervention possibly could have deescalated some situations. But not a single 911 call came until the first shots were fired and the car was located in the pool.”
Braden said his department has been hosting a number of youth engagement programs at Seabrook Park this summer, including camps and activities in which youngsters can play games with police officers and ask them questions during “safe spaces.” Braden said the fact that the shooting happened despite the “proactive police work” in the community indicates more work is needed.
“So just the mere presence of police didn’t make that place safe,” Braden said. “We’re going to have to change the hearts and minds of the people within that community.”
Council member Shakeyla Ingram, who represents the community, agreed that a “village mentality” is needed to stop the problem of gun violence. Residents, she said, need to start checking in on one other before things have time to escalate.
“We have to turn back and start becoming nosy neighbors, being all up in our neighbors’ stuff,” Ingram said.
In response to a question about how concerned residents should be about recent shootings, Braden said that as long as people are avoiding criminal activity, they should be OK.
“The average citizen who’s just going out to eat at Mi Casita on a Monday night is going to be safe,” he said.
Braden said in an interview following the Aug. 16 public safety meeting that he expects to release final crime data for the second quarter of 2023 this week. He encouraged people to refrain from drawing broad conclusions about the crime rate until more data is available.
“I would wait till the end of the year to see what we end the year at to say that crime is up or down,” he said.
To report a crime in Fayetteville or Cumberland County anonymously, visit the local government CrimeStoppers page www.fay-nccrimestoppers.org/