GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Greensboro has a violence problem, and Chief Wayne Scott knows it. In 2017, Greensboro police investigated 42 homicides, more than 500 shootings and 364 overdoses, 64 of which resulted in death.
Those numbers plagued the city in 2017 and police are enlisting the community's help to fight the opioid epidemic and violent crime heading into this year.
Greensboro created the Safer City Initiative in January 2017 in response to what Scott called an "unfortunate forecast" of a rise in violence crime across the nation and in the Triad.
“We are all being touched by it, we’ve got to get to a perspective that we all have to make a difference," he said.
At Tuesday night's city council meeting, Scott updated the community on the Safer City Initiative's progress and goals moving forward.
This year, the city plans to increase the number of neighborhood watch groups, host job fairs focusing on hiring past criminal offenders, find more people willing to mentor our city's kids and create a culture that doesn't allow gangs to thrive.
Violent crimes and overdoses hit an all-time high in Greensboro last year.
“Any increase or any homicide is one too many," Scott said.
Out of 42 homicides, police determined one to be non-criminal. Two others were "exceptionally cleared," and 19 cases have suspects behind bars. That leaves 20 homicides unsolved.
Scott said gangs, drugs, domestic violence, accidents and fights getting out of control are just some of the factors that have played a part.
“You put all those together and it’s a recipe that we’re going to have violent acts in our community," he said.
Police are cracking down on those causes of overdoses and violence.
In 2017, police got 500 guns off the streets in Greensboro, many of which were illegally owned. Through the city's Gun Stoppers program, community members helped police seize 34 firearms, make 18 arrests, hand out 101 felony charges and solve 24 cases.
“I believe that is the hinge pin," Scott said. "I’ve seen an increase in the amount of guns in our city and I believe we have to do everything that we can to eliminate those illegal guns.”
Scott tied the rise in violence, in Greensboro and across the Triad, to the opioid epidemic.
“There is a strong nexus between our drug trade and homicides," Scot said. "Not all of them, but there is a strong trend there.”
Police are also working to create incentives for kids to get involved in something other than a gang.
"Most people join a gang because they’re missing something and looking for something," Scott said. "So let’s create that somewhere else.”
Police are starting up a new initiative called Save our Schools. Officers plan to visit Guilford County Schools and talk to first- through fifth-graders about being positive members of their community.
They're bringing back the Police Explorer Program for youth interested in careers in criminal justice for the first time in 10 years.
“We hear that very often in our community, that we don’t want gangs here, and if that’s a community decision, then the community can help us with that,” Scott said.
Scott says looking back at violent and drug-related crime rates in 2018, the forecast for violence this year may seem bleak, but he believes we can change that.
“You may not have been touched by any of things I talked about, but we don’t know what 2018’s going to hold, but we do know that as a city, when we get very citizen involved, we are so much stronger," he said.
You can share your ideas for helping city leaders and law enforcement at the Safer City Initiative Summit on Monday, Feb. 5, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.