DURHAM — Mayor Bill Bell was not pleased when Police Chief Jose L. Lopez reported that violent crime in the first three months of 2014 was up 36 percent over the same period last year.
“We certainly want to give the Police Department applause when we’re going in the right way,” Bell said after Lopez presented his first-quarter crime report ( bit.ly/SuaBUN) to the City Council last week. “But I can just tell you we’re not off to a good start in this quarter.”
A 70 percent spike in victims of aggravated assault – from 149 in 2013 to 254 this year – helped drive the overall crime rate up. Homicides rose from four to six and robberies from 125 to 134, but reported rapes were down from 30 to 25.
“Since I’ve been on council, I think this is the first report that we’ve seen where we had a significant jump in any of the (crime) categories,” said Councilman Steve Schewel.
“In almost every category, the crime rate is going in the wrong direction,” said Councilman Eugene Brown.“Do you have any insight into why this is happening? Do you see this as an aberration?”
“Crime isn’t linear; it’s going to be up and down,” Lopez said, and the 2014 numbers were being compared with a 14-year low in January-March 2013.
“I don’t feel good about the trend,” Lopez said. “Whenever it’s going up I don’t feel good about it.”
Aggravated assault records count each victim as a separate assault incident whether the victim is actually harmed or not. Lopez said that early in the year there were numerous instances of multi-victim assaults from shots fired into occupied houses and into crowds.
“A lot of it is retaliatory,” Lopez said. “One who’s shooting at a house will probably have someone shooting at them, or at their house. We’ve been addressing that.”
Violent-crime investigations produced arrests in five 2014 homicides and one from 2013, and Lopez said robbery and burglary arrests “solved a lot of the cases.”
One highlight in the quarter that Lopez mentioned was a Feb. 23 traffic stop on I-85 that resulted in the largest synthetic marijuana seizure in Durham police history, and the arrest of Joe Hardy, an Alabama resident also wanted for a federal parole violation.
Property crime – burglary, larceny and vehicle theft – rose 10 percent, from 2,277 cases to 2,501.
Still, “Violent crime, that’s what really really jumps out,” Schewel said.
“We’ve just got to find a way to do better,” Bell said. “This is a bad start.”