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Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK

The Abbeville Police Department is pleading for community members with information in two recent homicides to step forward.

Police Chief Bill Spearman put out the call for assistance at a news conference Friday, days after the city’s second homicide in less than three weeks. On Wednesday, 21-year-old Jacoby Lee was fatally shot while driving his vehicle in the 800 block of South Guegnon Street near Martin Luther King Drive.

On Aug. 5, a man was shot and killed about 4:45 a.m. near the intersection of Clover and North Miles streets. Police did not release the victim’s name.

Prior to the two killings, it had been over a year since a homicide was committed in the city, the chief said. On July 5, 2018, a man was fatally stabbed in the 200 block of Sucre Circle. Nicholas Wilson, of New Iberia, was arrested on a count of second-degree murder in the slaying.

Spearman and his detectives said they need the public to come forward with tips to help advance the cases. He said a suspect was apprehended quickly in the July 2018 homicide because community members spoke up, and others need to do the same.

He said one problem is groups and individuals pressuring witnesses not to speak. His officers are aware of groups intimidating witnesses, telling people not to submit surveillance footage or threatening harm if people speak up, Spearman said.

The chief said he could not confirm if this was the behavior of organized gangs, but said his team isn’t ruling it out.

A former school resource officer, Spearman said he personally knew the recent victims and knows many of the young men involved in the city’s violent crime incidents.

“No matter what the path of a person, they don’t deserve to die. We don’t want these people to be statistics. We know these people and we want these cases to be solved,” Spearman said.

Spearman and his detectives acknowledged there’s been community criticism against the department. For people that don’t like or trust officers, tips can be submitted anonymously. Evidence can also be submitted to deputies with the Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s Office, who will pass the information along, they said.

The important thing is that it’s brought to light somehow, Spearman said.

The chief said his department is partnering with the sheriff’s office and other agencies to combat violent crime, but like many police departments his officers are strained. He said he currently employs between 33 and 35 officers, down slightly from a full force of 39 officers.

“We really need the public right now. … We don’t stop, but we are sometimes taxed in what we can do,” Spearman said.

Investigations Lt. Jason Hebert said residents do come forward with tips and information they’ve heard, but oftentimes it’s secondhand. He said they need witnesses or individuals with footage of the homicides to step forward to help make the case.

He encouraged those who are hesitant to think of their loved ones.

“Don’t wait until your family is a victim of these crimes to come forward. Help us,” Hebert said.

The chief said residents can submit tips anonymously through the submit a tip link on the Abbeville Police Department’s Facebook page and website; by calling the anonymous tips line at (337) 892-6777; or by mailing written tips or letters to the department at 304 Charity St., Abbeville.

Spearman said they’re also launching a “Camera Club” for residents to anonymously send the department video footage if they’re uncomfortable with officers coming to their home or interviewing them. Footage from cellphones and surveillance cameras should be downloaded onto a disc or flash drive and mailed to the department, he said.

Participants don’t need to provide a return address on the envelope but should include a note it’s for the “Camera Club,” he said.

Once funds are secured, they’re also considering a gun buyback program to take more weapons off the streets, he said.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com