Greenville Police launch new unit to reduce gun violence

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Greenville Police are taking a proactive approach against gun violence in the city by launching their gun violence reduction unit.

The unit was addressed publicly for the first time on Wednesday by Chief Mark Holtzman.

“They’ll pick up that investigation from the street and go back into the community walk and talk, and work with the neighborhood and find out where the problems are,” Holtzman said.

Unlike normal patrols, the gun violence unit will work solely on gun cases, unless needed for back-up elsewhere. The unit was made possible by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, good for four years.

Officers within the unit will use data-drive approaches to reduce violence, especially in high crime areas.

Office Justin Cooper, one of the four officers in the unit, said they are working to make sure the community is safer with less guns on the street.

“We’d much rather get them off the street now before we do get that call saying someone just held up a store or someone has been shot,” Cooper said.

Since hitting the streets in late June, the unit has already made more than 20 arrests, including two of convicted felons with a firearm.

Both Mark Sharpe, 35, and Freddie Anthony, 23, were arrested after trying to run and hide from police.

Despite working with some of Greenville’s most dangerous, Cooper said they aren’t handling their jobs any different in light of police shootings across the country.

“Just approach everyone with professionalism and respect,” he said. “If something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, but there’s better ways to de-escalate a situation and to mitigate those factors.”

Chief Holtzman said they will still rely on the community to help the new unit address a big problem in Greenville.

“We can’t start to do our part for the community unless the community calls us,” Holtzman said. “So we need a phone call every time they hear a gunshot going off.”

Greenville has averaged about 500 shots fired calls each year. So far in 2016, around 20 shootings have been confirmed, with one homicide.

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