A 2013 city survey found more than three-quarters of residents think Durham has a gang problem, but a recent assessment of gang presence in Durham puts numbers to the perception.
According to the 2014 Gang Assessment gang members were involved in less than 1 in 20 reported crimes from 2009-12. And many Durham gangs are loosely organized, with members able to leave one gang and join another in some cases.
Among the findings:
• “Validated gang members” were suspects or victims in 4.6 percent of criminal incident reports from 2009 to 2012. (A person is considered “validated” if she or he meets two of 12 criteria, such as showing gang colors, wearing gang tattoos or claiming to be gang members.)
• Firearms were involved in 67 percent of aggravated assaults and 76 percent of robberies in which gang members were suspects or victims during the same period.
• The age of gang members is concentrated between 16 and 25; juveniles were involved in just 6.8 percent of gang-related incidents.
• In Durham Public Schools, a survey found 58 percent of those responding said gangs were a problem in their schools.
• Law-enforcement officers (school resource officers) are posted in middle and high schools to maintain law and order, and their referrals account for 29 percent of all those sent to juvenile court authorities.
Over the four years the report considers, incident reports with gang members as suspects or victims averaged 1,130 annually – though it turned out that no crime was actually committed in 56 percent of those instances.
Truancy is considered a risk factor often leading to youngsters joining gangs, and in the school years 2010-13 Durham Public Schools had an daily absence average of 28 percent: less than Guilford County’s 59 percent, but much higher than the 2 percent in Cumberland County and 16 percent in Forsyth.
But, the report says, “it is very difficult to ascertain the level of gang activity in Durham Public Schools. The ‘hard data’ ... is inconclusive.”
Gang names kept out
Overall, the 2014 Gang Assessment, which updates a similar review in 2007, is long on numbers but leaves questions unaddressed such as what particular gangs are active in Durham.
Police have the information, but “It purposely wasn’t included in the report, because it’s kind of their policy not to glorify one gang’s name over another,” said Jim Stuit, gang reduction strategy manager with the Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center.
Neither the Durham Police Department nor the Durham County Sheriff’s office had responded to The Durham News’s request for more detailed information before this edition went to press.
Nor in the Gang Assessment is there such information as where particular gangs are active – Crips in East Durham? Bloods in Southside? and so forth – or just what their criminal activities are and just what “gang” means in Durham.
“There might be a particular gang that does mostly property crime. I’m not sure about that,” Stuit said.
Stuit did, though, offer some observations that suggest “gangs” in Durham are not as close and tight as one might expect.
“What I’m hearing and seeing is that, for the most part, it’s not your highly organized gangs like you see in somewhere like California,” he said.
“Members of the gangs seem to be able to transfer from one gang to another,” Stuit said. “Say you have a youth living in McDougald Terrace and then Mom moves to another housing development north of I-85, he’s typically able to leave the local gang and merge in with a new gang without too much problem.
“That’s what we’re hearing and seeing, so it’s not a rigid method for getting into the gang or out of the gang. I think it’s looser.”
That could be changing, he said, among some youth – or not.
“Now, I believe the Latino gangs that are kind of starting to get a foothold here may have a bit more structure,” Stuit said. “But I don’t have any factual evidence of that, it’s just my impression from talking to folks.”
How much of a gang problem Durham has is also, the report implies, a matter of geography.
The report identifies “multiple risks census tracts” in the city, where socioeconomic conditions encourage gang involvement. Those include the Northeast Central Durham area, between Geer Street and the Norfolk Southern Railroad and Roxboro Street east to U.S. 70.
South of the railroad, the areas around Durham Tech and McDougald Terrace apartments, and Southside, are rated “multiple risk,” along with a tract farther south on either side of the American Tobacco Trail, and an area south of Main Street including Duke Central Campus and the West End-Lyon Park neighborhoods.
The greatest concentration of major violent crimes (murder, rape, aggravated assault and robbery) in Durham, according to the report, includes the Southside/Rolling Hills district on either side of Roxboro Street, along as the area immediately north of the Durham Freeway.
One renowned gang that does have some visibility in Durham is a well-known one: the venerable Hell’s Angels, whose clubhouse displays its emblem for all to see in the Gorman area of Durham County.
“Yeah, they’re classified as an OMG, an ‘outlaw motorcycle gang,’ “ Stuit said. “I know that there are the Hell’s Angels and one other motorcycle gang ... that are kind of on the radar of law enforcement here.”
It was not the Hell’s Angels, but two other gangs that were involved in what was probably the area’s most notable incident of biker violence – a firearm attack by members of one gang by a rival’s while both groups were heading north on Interstate 85 .
That, though, was more than 40 years ago and Stuit said he doesn’t hear much about motorcycle clubs making trouble these days.
“The law enforcement probably bothers them enough where, whatever they do,” he said, “it’s not too much ...wide-open.”