The U.S. Justice Department will be helping Durham deal with violent crime and police-community relations, after a City Council vote Thursday.
Council members voted unanimously to accept an offer of training and technical assistance, at no cost to the city, that federal consultants extended in an analysis of crime and community attitudes toward police completed in April.
The vote came during a special work session on the analysis. At the session, Councilman Eddie Davis invited his colleagues to meet with him June 3 to plan a series of “community conversations” on police-civilian relations.
“The community has not always spoken and given their point of view,” Davis said, “and it’s important to give them a platform to do so.”
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The analysis, by Hildy Saizow and Scott Decker with the federal Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center, showed that firearm homicides and aggravated assaults primarily happen in high-poverty areas with large minority populations in Durham. It also reported that residents of those areas complain that they are targeted and “baited” by police.
The 2009-12 firearm homicide rate for black males age 15-34 in Durham was 41.6 per 100,000, about eight times the nationwide rate. For Hispanics, the Durham rate was 38 per 100,000 and for whites, 7.2.
Saizow and Decker also found that, while Durham has plenty of resources and initiatives for reducing violent crime, their effectiveness is blunted by working in “silos.” They advised a coordinated, city-wide program to address crime and police issues.
“We have a bad habit of creating a new committee for every crisis,” City Manager Tom Bonfield said.
Mayor Bill Bell asked the center to look at Durham in early 2014, after a spike in homicides and strained relations between residents and police over racial bias allegations and use of tear gas to break up a protest demonstration.
There was no indication when federal assistance might begin, but the consultants specifically offered:
▪ An outside facilitator to develop the community-wide strategic plan and organization;
▪ Connections for Durham police with other agencies that have successful approaches to violent crime.
▪ An outside authority to advise the police on communications with the public and community policing.
“What does good community policing look like?” Councilman Steve Schewel asked. “I hope the Department of Justice can help us define that better.”
Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden said better use could be made of the Partners Against Crime citizens’ groups in each police district, and the city should engage the teenagers on its Youth Commission.
“Kids are eager to give their suggestions,” Cole-McFadden said.