Council backs Durham police chief after positive crime report

jwise@newsobserver.comDecember 16, 2013 

— City Council members spoke up in support of the Durham Police Department after Chief Jose L. Lopez reported the city’s crime rate continued a downward trend through the first nine months of this year.

Violent crime – homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault – was down 8 percent compared with the same period in 2012, Lopez said. The total of 1,174 incidents was the lowest since 2005.

Property crime – burglarly, larcency and motor vehicle theft – was up from 7,764 incidents in 2012 to 7,822 this year, but second lowest only to 2012 in the past 14 years.

Overall, crime in those seven “Part 1” categories totaled 8,996 incidents, down from 9,036 in 2012 and 9,798 in 2011, according to Monday night’s report to the City Council ( bit.ly/1cAxKHx).

“It’s great to see our crime rate is continuing to go down,” Councilman Steve Schewel said.

He then acknowledged there were “issues swirling around our Police Department (that) we ought not to let the report go by without ... talking about a little bit."

Those issues include lingering questions about three deaths involving Durham police officers in the past six months and allegations of racist behavior committed by officers.

Schewel spoke up after community activist Victoria Peterson, responding to Lopez’s presentation, said, “We have to get a new police chief in this community.

“We have too many murders, too many deaths, too many shootings going on – particularly in the African American community,” Peterson said. “This community has to address the crime problem.”

Mayor Bill Bell gave Peterson two minutes to speak and cut her off when her time ran out.

“I would love to get another minute, Mr. Mayor,” she said.

“I know you would, but we’re not going to do it tonight, Ms. Peterson,” Bell said.

‘Excellent department’

Schewel defended the Police Department: “The Durham Police Department is an excellent department, filled with men and women – black, white and Hispanic – who care deeply about our community and its welfare.”

Schewel said he has taken a close interest in the department since the recent problems, attending command staff meetings, riding along with a patrol offier on a Saturday night and talking to private citizens and relatives of those whose deaths involved police. He praised the department’s responses to the ongoing bias investigation by the city Human Relations Commission (see bit.ly/18N40pS).

“Mainly, Schewel said, “our community regards our police officers as their friends, as their helpers and their protectors and want more policing, not less in their communities.”

Even so, he said city officials including police have to “face any charges of bias and police misconduct with an open mind and an open heart. ... as good as our Police Department is in so many ways we can all improve. Let’s give our department the encouragement to do so.”

Councilman Eddie Davis said he concurred with Schewel and he hoped city authorities can give the community “a sense of transparency” regarding the department’s procedures and policies.

“The community is being very very patient when it comes to the answers that are needed and the protocols that are utilized by the Police Department,” Davis said.

“Some of these things have been lingering for months and I know we don’t want to rush to judgment and we want to allow the investigation to go forward, but too many of them have occurred and too often and without the kind of transparency the citizens of Durham deserve.”

SBI reports

Lopez has had little to say about the details of the officer-involved deaths of Jose Ocampo on July 27, Derek Deandre Walker on Sept. 17 and Jesus Huerta on Nov. 19, as those cases remain under State Bureau of Investigation investigation and autopsy reports have not been finished by the state medical examiner.

Schewel, echoing Councilman Eugene Brown’s comments last week, blamed the state legislature for cutting funds for the criminal justice system, including the SBI, its crime labs and the medical examiner’s office. Still, given that reality, “We’ve got find a way to inform public of key facts much sooner,” he said.

Bell added, “There are a lot of components involved in trying to bring these issues to resolution.”

Lopez thanked the council for its support and, as he has frequently done in the past, he asked for residents to assist the police in solving and preventing crime.

“To expect the Police Department or the police chief to solve it all, I don’t think that’s realistic,” Lopez said.

‘Black on black’

Bell, in closing comments, also said the entire community has to be involved in crime prevention, and some of what he had to say sounded as though directed at Peterson.

“When we look at homicides, when we look at aggravated assaults ... the fact of the matter is vast majority of them are black-on-black crimes,” Bell said.

“I don’t care what people want to say about police targeting or doing whatever – they’re black-on-black crimes and we’ve got to find a way to deal with that. ,,, We’ve got to find a way to deal with that,” he said.

“We aren’t unmindful of where the issues are. What we’re saying is, we don’t have all the solutions, the police don’t have all the solutions, it’s going to have to be the community.

“I understand the impatience that people have,” Bell said. “I certainly understand the families of victims in these cases, but there’s a process, and I would hope that you will allow that process to go through and trust the City Council wants it done as quickly as possible but we want it done right.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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