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Violent Crime Has Many In Salisbury On Edge

This year we’ve spent a lot of time concentrating on the increased number of murders in Charlotte. Today, we’re going to focus on a small city Northeast of Charlotte—Salisbury.

There have been seven murders to date there this year—at least four in the past month. There’s also been an increase in non-fatal shootings. Residents are concerned and want police to do more to quell the violence.

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Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE News
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WFAE News
Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce.

Salisbury has a population of about 34,000 people. It’s roughly 45 miles northeast of Charlotte. During the day, it looks like any other small downtown, but Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce says that sense of normalcy can change in an instant.

Pierce points to a parking lot that was the scene of a couple of shootings.They weren’t fatal but the lot is about a block off of downtown Main Street. Police officials say there were 47 non-fatal shootings last year, with 39 already this year. One was across the street from the police department downtown.

“They’re emboldened about doing whatever they want to do,” Pierce said.

On the other side of Main Street, Pierce points out a murder site.

“We just had a killing behind that bank. Two young men lost their lives right here in this parking lot,” Pierce said.

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Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE News
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WFAE News
Four people were shot, two died, in this parking lot, just one block off of Salisbury's downtown Main Street.

A large scenic mural overlooks the parking lot for Go Burrito, a popular restaurant and bar. Four young people were shot there on July 29 around 2 a.m. Two died. Two days later, a 21-year-old man was found dead in front of an apartment building on another side of town. On August 12, a young man was fatally shot during the early evening hours in front of a downtown convenience store.

“I’ve lived in this city my entire life and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Pierce said.

Neither have residents like Martha Hinton and Shae Snyder, who stopped by the almost deserted West End Mall.

“Salisbury was a small sleepy, quiet town but not anymore,” Hinton said. “Every week somebody is getting hurt or killed and it’s sad.”

“It’s absolutely horrible,” Snyder added. “I don’t know if the police need to step up more but something’s got to be done. That’s why I moved out in the country because I don’t feel safe in the city anymore.

At a downtown barbershop, a fundraiser was held for seven-year-old A’yanna Allen, killed last December in a drive-by shooting as she slept in bed with her grandmother. Bryan Hunt, who owns the barbershop, says her death and the double shooting around the corner were wakeup calls for many in the community.

“Without a doubt it’s gotten worse, and it’s not just on the West End but its hit downtown,” said Hunt, a former city fireman. “We as a community need to take ownership that’s it’s up to all of us to fix it and come up with something. What that is I don’t know. I just cut hair for a living.

As long-time resident Marlin Hash inspects his haircut, he describes Salisbury as still a nice place to live. But he thinks the police could do more to solve and prevent crimes.

“I’m not familiar with this new chief but I don’t think they’re doing enough,” Hash said. “I believe the Salisbury police need to work on community relations with the community to get help to solve these crimes. There’s a real distrust there. People like, ‘I don’t even want to talk to the police’”.

“Unfortunately our city is suffering from issues with gun violence and assault with deadly weapons higher than we’d like,” say Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes, who's been on the job for a year.

Stokes says they have made arrests in all but one of this year’s seven murders. Last year, there were 10 homicides, with four arrests. Stokes says most of the homicide and shooting victims know each other and he attributes a lot of those incidents to gang and drug activity. He says the Crimp and Bloods have a presence in Salisbury, as well as MS-13—plus, the opioid problem has escalated. But some others point to an understaffed police force.

“We started off the year 16 short so when you talk about replacing 20 percent of your force and retirements before the end of the year, getting solid candidates to take those positions has been a struggle to find,” Stokes said.

To attract more applicants, officers received a 15 percent raise. But starting pay is still under $40,000. Stokes says the raise has made a difference and that he now has only eight vacancies. But County Commissioner Pierce says, “Having them hired and on duty are two different things. What he didn’t tell you is six of the ones they hired won’t be available to take to the streets until October.

He added,”It makes it easy for drug people to come in from big towns and do their business in the small town with no police and in 30 minutes they can get back in the big town so that’s part of what’s happening here.”

Since last year, the Sheriff’s Department has helped the city with patrols and investigations at the county’s expense. A big stink developed when Pierce and a Salisbury councilman suggested that the Sheriff’s Department take over the city’s police department until it had a full force. Right now, the city is paying for sheriff’s deputies who do patrols in the city. Chief Stokes says in July, they started a 90-day foot patrol program in five neighborhoods, so officers can interact with residents more and gain their trust.

The Police Department has other initiatives in the works, but barber Timothy Batten still does not think they’re doing enough,

“But I’m doing my part,” said Batten, who’s started an organization called Barbers

Against Bullets.“I have six barbers lined up. We’ll give kids free haircuts, gift bags, teach them how to tie a tie, conduct an interview, fill out a resume, show them life skills to help aid in a life, instead of taking a life."

And he says he hopes they can reach them before the streets do.