A Closer Look: District Attorney Ben David on violent crime - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

A Closer Look: District Attorney Ben David on violent crime, tougher laws and re-election

District Attorney Ben David talks about violence crime in Wilmington, and the effort to fight gang violence in the community District Attorney Ben David talks about violence crime in Wilmington, and the effort to fight gang violence in the community

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) –  Ben David has prosecuted murder cases and dealt with violent crime in Wilmington for nearly 15 years, the last nine as District Attorney for the 5th Judicial District. The city's most recent murder case literally brought gang violence to David's front door. Someone gunned down Joseph David Williams on the afternoon of September 21st, as the 19-year-old rode on the back of a scooter on Forest Hills Drive. That's the same street where David lives with his wife and young children.

"I take any crime personally in this community," said the District Attorney in an interview. "But when it's in your front yard, it's especially so. Working closely with the neighborhood, the police and people on the street, we're going to try to solve that crime, and bring justice for Mr. Williams."

After an outbreak of violence in June, with more than a dozen reported shootings in one week and the murder of 17-year-old Jeffrey Henry, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous told residents it was a series of gang-related crimes. The crackdown began on the streets involving police and community leaders. David's office prosecuted and sentenced gang members under federal guidelines, bringing stronger sentences not possible in state courts.

"The police and this office have been so effective with the gang problem that I think we've created another one," said David. "There have been people who've gone through federal sentencing through this office and through local law enforcement getting years in prison in the decades. So, there is a power vacuum on the street right now, and that's getting filled with new people who are in a power struggle that has turned very violent."

David is active in initiatives and outreach efforts to speak with young adults before they get caught up in the gang lifestyle. He speaks to thousands of students in local schools and supports other programs dedicated to give at-risk youth alternatives to life on the streets. He also echoes the sentiment of Chief Evangelous, who has urged community leaders and neighbors in high-crime areas to report anything that looks out of the ordinary.

"The police department is absolutely doing what it needs to do," David said. "The community needs to step up and do what it needs to do. If they see a crime, they need to report it. If they fear a reprisal, they can anonymously report it through Text-A-Tip."

Some blame the criminal justice system for contributing to the escalation in crime. The criticism at times has come from law enforcement, saying their arrests are often un-done by criminals being released early or given lenient sentences.

"The laws, candidly, are inadequate in terms of punishment to deal with property theft or drug abuse," said David. "Those offenses are usually left out on the street in probationary sentences, not because judges and prosecutors don't get it, but because structured sentencing requires that in order not to overcrowd the prisons.  The revolving door that many are frustrated with, including yours truly, is that up until the time you have a grievous offense it is not typically something you can warehouse away.  And also very young people are committing these crimes. Many are juveniles."

David said he is seeing a greater level of cooperation with the nearby 13th Judicial District, which covers Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties and is headed by his twin brother Jon. Ben David says criminals don't recognize county lines when it comes to offenses such as drugs or human trafficking. They have taken a regional approaching to fighting crime and Ben David says it is having a positive effect so far.

When asked if he has any aspirations for higher political office, to help make changes to the system from Raleigh, David is matter-of-fact. "I tell people there is no beach in Raleigh," he said in response. "I really want to stay here. I want to raise my kids in Wilmington. I plan on running again for District Attorney, and to be in Wilmington for a long time."

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