Mayor B.J. Murphy talks with KDPS Director Bill Johnson and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Tyson as they hold a press conference with an update on crime Monday at City Hall. Janet S. Carter / The Free Press
Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy, Kinston Department of Public Safety Director Bill Johnson and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Tyson discussed short- and long-term plans to prevent crime in the city, but also sought the assistance of the residents.
“When you look at the community, the only way to solve a problem of this magnitude is to engage them,” Murphy said. “The government and department of public safety has their roles, but through alignment with the community, we would be much better suited to solve the issue.”
A five-part initiative was discussed in the conference with a focus based towards religious groups, youth, businesses, other government agencies and public and private partnerships through Crime Stoppers.
Murphy proclaimed Tuesday, Oct. 21, as a Day of Mourning and Prayer in Kinston, and a candlelight vigil will be hosted at 7:30 p.m. at Kinston High School.
“Although the City of Kinston isn’t organizing this event, feel free to call my office at 252-939-3115 if you’d like to help,” he said, “and we’ll put you in touch with the event’s organizers.”
A group of students from Kinston High School also launched its #IHeartKinston campaign, where they will look to use the “hashtag” on social media networks — such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — to share their love for the city and spread the word.
Melissa Glen, a senior at Kinston High School, said she hopes to see her peers and others carry on with the hashtag.
“We have several tweets going now,” Glen said. “The goal is to get a lot of students involved to change Kinston and keep the trend moving.”
Today, the “To Catch A Criminal” campaign, which was discussed Monday, was launched. With the little bank and The Free Press helping to restore the operation, each Tuesday there will be known criminals KDPS is looking to take off the streets featured in the paper.
If a resident has information which could lead to an arrest, the resident will not be named, but will receive $500. Also, local station TACC-9 will be coordinating a series of in-depth conversations with Johnson while seeking assistance from the community in providing information.
“We’ve had cases where witnesses or victims didn’t want to speak, or gave us false names,” Johnson said. “We can only do so much without the cooperation of the community.”
Long-term, Murphy said the city is looking to receive a Choice Neighborhood Grant for a two-year community planning process to create a detailed transformational plan.
“Essentially, it would create a road map for future redevelopment,” Murphy said. “The grant’s focus is on housing people and neighborhoods. More specifically, it could replace some public housing with high-quality, low-density (and) mixed-income housing; focus on workforce training; and increase the potential for economic opportunities.”
Tyson said the city is also working on reviving its Crime Stoppers program. Shortly after the end of the meeting, nine people approached Tyson asking to volunteer.
“The people have looked at this as a good idea and want to contribute,” Tyson said. “I’m pleased with the way the community wants to step up and see what they can do to combat crime.”
Alexa Chapman, a freshman at Kinston High School, said she learned a lot from the press conference.
“There were new plans made to help the community and bring Kinston back, and we have to have youth cooperation,” she said.
Kinston City Manager Tony Sears said the conference will open up further discussions in the future with the city leaders and residents.
“Obviously, we can’t begin and end just like this,” Sears said. “There has to be concrete actions and steps to follow.”
Maya Swinson, principal of Rochelle Middle School, said the discussion was a step in the right direction and hopes to see more progress.
“A lot of the criminal activities happen in the neighborhoods of the children around this area,” Swinson said. “I would like to know what considerations are being made to support the neighborhoods. It’s great they’re doing the candlelight vigil at Kinston High, but there are parents who have trouble making it to the parent-teacher conferences here, much less take a trip there. I would like to see more vigils where the actions occurred and the city leaders meeting the community where they are for support.”
Kinston resident Carlos Parker, who coaches and mentors in the community, said he believes the leaders are taking the wrong approach.
“They’re approaching this problem from the outside in,” Parker said. “What they need to do is come and see people in the trenches and work with those already trying to help the community. The leaders need to come to the heart of Kinston. I see they’re putting in an effort with this conference, but how can you work on the problem and don’t really know what’s going on? They’re going on second- and third-party information and that’s usually watered down.
“The gang unit they have aren’t really experts on the gangs. The real experts are the kids. Until the leaders get together and get into the trenches to solve the problem, it’ll just be a repetitive cycle.”
Another Kinston resident, Edna Dixon-Lawson, said she was wondering what the city was trying to do in regard to preventive methods to stop crime before it could start.
“Where are the guns coming from and what is being done there,” Dixon-Lawson asked. “What activities are being put in place to make some of the citizens feel human, when there’s no jobs or apparent job training? We shouldn’t just be talking about jails — what is being done to prevent them from going there in the first place?”
Murphy said if the residents are willing to work with the officials, significant progress will be made in Kinston.
“If the community embraces the challenges, you will absolutely see a better Kinston,” Murphy said. “I can’t speak on crime being completely deterred, but with everyone working together and getting involved, there will be a major impact.”
Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 andJunious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.