The energy created by the Long Neck community against crime in the area has prompted a local businessman to reopen his store.
Charlie Pollard, owner of Kick n’ Chicken, said he plans to reopen his Route 24 restaurant May 24 after closing his doors in April. His store was burglarized twice in the week leading up to his decision to close. The night Pollard decided to close, a nearby business was also robbed by gunpoint.
Pollard had had enough, but so have hundreds of Long Neck, Oak Orchard and Angola residents who attended community meetings May 1 and May 15. A show of Sussex County support and a grassroots group, Long Neck Strong – created by residents fed up with area crime – is what Pollard said he needed to hear.
“I feel like there is enough momentum going in the right directions, that if I make modifications to how I operate my business that I could be part of the solution,” he said.
During a May 15 meeting at Long Neck Elementary, legislators and police told more than 300 residents to keep an eye out for crime and report anything suspicious.
“What you think is trivial may be monumental in helping us solve a case,” said Major Sean Moriarity, Delaware State Police operations officer for Kent and Sussex.
Moriarity was joined by legislators Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, and senators Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, and Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View. Sussex County councilmen Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, and I.G. Burton III, R-Lewes, also attended.
“We all have to work together,” said Briggs King.
The May 15 meeting followed one held May 1 in Oak Orchard when about 200 residents demanded to know what is being done to prevent burglaries and robberies in the Long Neck, Oak Orchard and Angola areas. The same night as the May 1 meeting there was a robbery and an attempted robbery on Route 24. Those incidents followed a series of burglaries and robberies that prompted Pollard to close his Route 24 restaurant. In three years’ time, he said, his business has been burglarized 13 times.
“What's driving crime in your area is drugs,” said Capt. Rodney Layfield, commander of Troop 4 in Georgetown. “We are in your neighborhoods but aren't there 24-7.”
Moriarity gathered statistics in the Long Neck area comparing crime from April 2015 to May 2016 and from April 2016 to May 2017, which showed a slight drop in incidents. In 2016, there were 1,146 crimes compared to 1,123 in the most recent time frame.
In a five-year analysis, assault and robbery are up about 17 percent, but three recent robberies and one attempted robbery helped drive that percentage up, Moriarity said. He said it may seem like there is a spike, but robberies are still low.
Pettyjohn said social media has played a role in stirring up crime concern.
“If you go on social media, you'd think this is an unsafe area,” he said. “I'd rather live here than Wilmington. We live in a very safe community.”
Residents who attended the meeting wrote down questions that were read and answered by officials.
One person asked why police release very little information when a crime is committed. Moriarity said some information can be pertinent to an investigation, and releasing the information could damage a case. Referring to recent robberies, he said, police do not want to share investigation details with the robber.
“For all I know, the person committing those robberies could be sitting here,” he said.
Residents also remain concerned that there are few troopers circulating throughout the unincorporated areas of Sussex. Long Neck, Oak Orchard and Angola are largely land-leased areas in which residents pay rent for the land. Those areas have no town center or city hall, and there is no local municipal police service. Delaware State Police and Sussex County Council pay for 44 state troopers to patrol Sussex County areas that lie outside municipal jurisdictions.
County Councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford, said he believes public safety is a government's prime responsibility. He said Sussex County uses money from its share of real estate transfer taxes to augment fire companies and police departments.
“That money goes to public safety specifically,” he said.
Besides keeping an eye out for crime, Moriarity said, residents should also make sure to lock their cars and homes. “Be vigilant and take those extra steps to lock,” he said.
Camera systems can also help deter crime, but working with one's neighbors and keeping a record of what's going on is the most important, he said.
“That sense of community is critical,” Moriarity said.