NEW CASTLE — New Castle Police Chief Bobby Salem held his breath Tuesday as midnight approached.
When the clock rang in 2014, he heaved a sigh of relief.
Now he could say that for the first time in nearly two decades, a year had come and gone without one person taking the life of another within the city’s borders.
Salem likes to think that stepped-up patrols and protocols he instituted last year to curb violence and attack the city’s drug problem have shown positive results.
“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said, “but we still have a long way to go.”
In police records dating back to 1997, he found that since then, there was no other year without a homicide in the city, and the average number in the past 10 years ranged between four and six.
Violent crime overall is down in the city, Salem pointed out.
The number of shootings without a death dropped from 23 incidents in 2012 to nine in 2013.
The number of armed robberies dropped from 35 to 21, he said, while the number of stabbings or assaults with a knife held steady with 16 in 2012 and 16 last year.
Salem attributes the drop in most categories to more aggressive patrols and concentration on trouble areas of the city.
“We’ve been saturating high crime areas with a lot of marked unit patrols and undercover operations,” he said. “That’s been our strategy and it’s been effective.”
He cited Crestview Gardens, Halco Drive and Bell Avenue as examples.
The department implemented a new street crimes unit this summer that spent time on foot and car patrol in those areas. Street crimes patrols arrested 138 people between June 10 through Aug. 30.
An increase in traffic stops, vehicle searches with police canines and search warrants served at homes also were a deterrent to violent crime, Salem said, adding that many guns were confiscated. He noted that the number of search warrants and traffic stops tripled this year.