While overall crime was down, violent crime in Durham rose 18 percent last year, Interim Police Chief Larry Smith told the City Council.
“January of 2015 was the most violent month in Durham since we’ve been keeping statistics,” he said.
Thirty-seven criminal homicides were committed in the city last year compared to 22 in 2014. Smith said 12 were “member-based,” meaning either the suspect or the victim was a confirmed gang member.
Robberies rose 12 percent, and aggravated assault, 23 percent.
Most of the crimes last year were in the central part of the city, Smith said. “About 13.5 percent of the land mass of Durham makes up about 48 percent of the violent crime.”
Sixty-seven percent of violent-crime victims were black, a figure that concerned council member Eddie Davis.
“I hope that we can have some real honest dialogue about how we can prevent crime everywhere by any group of people upon any group of people, but we certainly don’t want to see these disproportionate numbers as we see them here,” he said.
Smith also said that Latino and Hispanic victims were periodically targeted for robberies.
We’re not having a lot of victim cooperation. People will tell us ‘I know who did it, but I’ll take care of this myself.’
Interim Police Chief Larry Smith
The property crime rate fell 4 percent in 2014.
Last year’s violent crime increase, however, followed a 15 percent increase in the city’s violent crime rate in 2014.
The department’s clearance rate last year was above the FBI standard for homicide, larceny and motor vehicle theft but below for rape, aggravated assault and burglary.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into that,” Smith said. “Caseload is one of them. We’re not having a lot of victim cooperation. People will tell us ‘I know who did it, but I’ll take care of this myself.’”
Council member Steve Schewel pointed out that arrests for drug violations were down 25 percent from 2013 to 2015.
“When I saw that number I was glad,” he said. “I am very interested in us reducing the arrests for marijuana possession and small amounts of drugs. This is not insignificant.”
Schewel also questioned Smith about the increase in priority one (emergency) calls for services in the past year, asking if he thought it could be related to neighborhood gentrification.
Smith was unsure of the specific role of gentrification in the increased rate, but attributed the increase to Durham’s growth. “Demands for all services are going to increase,” he said.
These higher demands are all the more difficult given the department’s staffing levels. “Typically our attrition rate has been around three per month,” Smith said. “It’s been closer to five lately, which means in a year, we’ll lose 60 officers.”
He said there are 17 recruits going through training now. “It’ll take a full year for those 17 to get through the training phase and out in the field,” he said. “During that year, while we’re trying to get those 17 out into the field, as many as 60 officers will leave, so we’re always running in operational vacancies.”
The numbers in context
Long term, Durham’s overall crime rate has trended down for the past 15 years.
In 2001, there were 7,955 reported crimes per 100,000 residents, including 974 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.
But while the property crime rate has continued falling, Durham’s violent crime rate has risen in recent years. The reversal was cited as one of the reasons for the city’s ousting of Police Chief Jose Lopez last year.
▪ In 2013, there were 5,268 reported crimes per 100,000 residents, including 684 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.
▪ In 2014, there were 5,293 reported crimes per 100,000 residents, including 765 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.
▪ In 2015, there were 5,084 reported crimes per 100,000 residents, including 877.5 violent crimes per 100,000 residents.