Durham County commissioners told the new gang-reduction strategy manager this week to make sure the public knows what he's doing and how to get involved.
"The mere fact that we are addressing the gang problem in this community seems to go unnoticed," Chairman Michael Page said.
Jim Stuit, who was hired in August to manage the strategy and track its impact, said he is working to get the word out, speaking at community events, building a prevention and intervention team of community organizations and volunteers and planning a summit in March. Stuit said he is also working to create a resource guide that would be available on the Internet and in Spanish.
Meanwhile, statistics presented Monday show the number of juvenile arrests has dropped since 2008, but more of those youth have indicated they are affiliated with a gang.
Juvenile arrests dropped from 1,116 in 2008 to 570 in 2011, according to Stuit's presentation. Of the 570 juvenile arrests, 46 involved weapons. In a survey of court-involved youth given in fiscal 2009-2010, 7 percent across the state and 16 percent in Durham indicated they were affiliated with a gang. A November 2011 survey indicated the state percentage of youth claiming gang affiliation fell to 6 percent, but in Durham, the figure jumped to 20 percent.
Stuit said he had some concerns that those numbers are inconsistent with law enforcement agencies' observations.
"I just question that, and I would like to look at others sources of data," he said.
The gang-reduction strategy follows a 2007 assessment of the gang activity in Durham. It seeks to reduce gang activity through training, community mobilization, social intervention, providing new opportunities for offenders and suppression.
In 2007 the U.S. Justice Department gave Raleigh and Durham $2.5 million to split to support law enforcement efforts to combat gang crime and promote prevention efforts. Durham used the funding on police overtime, crime prevention and other efforts to help prisoners transition into the community after serving their sentence, according to the presentation.
In February 2011, an executive steering committee for the initiative was established that includes top city and county officials such as the police chief, the Durham Public Schools superintendent, city and county managers, and various elected officials.
In the fiscal year that started July 1, city and county leaders decided to split the costs of supporting the strategy and paying the salary for the manager as grant funds expired or were lost. Each contributed about $35,000 to keep it going, County Manager Mike Ruffin said.
After Stuit's presentation, county commissioners said the initiative is key to reducing violent crime in the area. They also said they want more of a community presence in the gang-reduction initiative from the top down.