Mayor B.J. Murphy and Bill Johnson, director of Kinston Department of Public Safety, speak with leaders while discussing ways to improving the city on Monday.
Photo: Photo by Janet S. Carter / The Free Press, License: N/A
By Junious Smith III / Staff writer
On Oct. 13, three Kinston leaders held a meeting at City Hall to discuss short- and long-term plans to prevent violent crimes in the city.
For the most part, it seems like improvements have been made since then, residents are saying.
In the meeting last month, Mayor B.J. Murphy, Kinston Department of Public Safety Bill Johnson and Mayor Pro Tem Joe Tyson discussed a five-part initiative, with the focus based on religious groups, youth, businesses, other government agencies and public and private partnerships through Crime Stoppers.
“The city is always looking for ways to reduce crime,” Murphy said. “The most common denominator in fighting crime, however, is an engaged community. Therefore, we seek the input of the community to report suspicious activity, engage religious leaders and take back our streets.”
Kinston High School junior Janiya Miller said she’s seen definitive change, especially since the candlelight vigil on Oct. 21, a day the mayor proclaimed as one of mourning and prayer in Kinston.
“I think from everyone coming together and praying, a lot has changed,” Miller said. “There haven’t been any fights at school, there hasn’t been any crime around here except for a minor lockdown (due to reports of a weapon by the Bojangles on North Herritage Street, leading to the arrest of two suspects on Nov. 7.)
“The vigil made a tremendous difference, with everyone coming together and walking by faith, not by sight. The presence of God has made things a lot calmer here. For me to be a junior and see everyone coming together and pressing through, it’s really a good thing.”
Kinston resident Anita Starkey said she commended the work of Kinston High School freshman Chris Suggs, who started Kinston Teens last month to empower the youth, giving them a chance to figure out solutions on fixing the city as well. Suggs, who held an interest meeting on Oct. 21, will have his first official meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at the Kinston-Lenoir County Public Library.
“Chris Suggs is doing a very good thing and I want my son to be part of that group,” Starkey said. “This is a young man who wants to be a part of the solution of the crime and everything that’s going on to better the city and I think it’s an awesome opportunity. He’s going to need a lot of support to make sure the project doesn’t fall to the ground.
“As far as how I feel about the city, I’ve seen an increase of what the police are doing to combat crime and making more people aware of situations and what’s going on. I think it’s a good thing as far as making the community aware and taking proactive actions. I think it’s the right step.”
Suggs said while his meeting Tuesday will be centralized on the community service aspect, there will be plenty of focus on the crime aspect, which he felt hasn’t changed too much.
“There have still been shootings and killings here,” Suggs said. “I was expecting a more concrete action from the (Oct. 13) meeting and see more police representation. This is a good start, but I was hoping to see more.”
Murphy has also looked outside of Kinston for assistance, holding a meeting Monday with several crime enforcement leaders, including U.S. Marshall Scott Parker, ATF Special Agent Wayne Dixie and N.C. Department of Public Safety Special Agent J. Eric Swain. Murphy said the agencies are all looking intently in providing change to Kinston.
“All of these entities have a relationship already and have been discussing issues in our community, but to have all of them at the same table in Kinston working on solutions in crime is a great sign of things to come in Kinston,” Murphy said. “Everyone from the governor’s office to federal and state agencies are involved and committed to reducing crime and increasing prosperity.
“The community will see a change in a reduction in individuals trying to invoke fear. Most of these operations will be under the radar, but just know they are here and we will be locking folks up and sending them away for good.”
Among the ideas discussed in the private meeting was a grant for KDPS to supply additional overtime hours, which Johnson said would go a long way.
“If we’re granted overtime, not only will we have more officers out on the streets, but additional operations will be planned,” Johnson said. “Overall in this meeting, you had different guys come here and want to work on the city of Kinston. It wasn’t just concentrated on a law enforcement effort — we’re really trying to take action to get the community involved. We’ve seen progress with the public and want to further that, but we need collaborative cooperation with the community.”
Parker said the U.S. Marshalls have worked with KDPS regularly and the conference assisted in taking the partnership to another level.
“This meeting enhanced the relationship we already have with Kinston and maybe bring other partners to the table, including non-law enforcement,” Parker said. “One of our goals is to make Kinston one of the safest cities in Eastern North Carolina.”
On Tuesday, Lisa Sylvia, director of The Gate, will hold a community prayer gathering outside of the organization’s headquarters at 7 p.m. Sylvia said she wanted to continue the practice after last month’s vigil where more than 500 came out to pray over Kinston.
“It was such a wonderful time with everyone gathering together,” Sylvia said. “The Lord put it on my heart to continue it and I contacted Ryan Vernon at 902 Church, along with other leaders, who agreed that we needed this event. We’ll have the same format as last time.”
Sylvia said she believes there’s a sense of unity and hopes the community continues to pray.
“There is power in praying together in His name,” Sylvia said. “Sometimes we do not see the results of prayer immediately, but we are called to pray without ceasing.”
Junious Smith III can be reached at 252-559-1077 and Junious.Smith@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JuniousSmithIII.