For the first time in nearly three years, violent crime in Durham remained virtually unchanged, according to six-month crime statistics presented Monday night.
The number of total reported homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies in the city from January through June dropped slightly, from 1,079 to 1,077 incidents
“When I say slight, it is only less than one percent, but we are going to claim that,” new Police Chief C.J. Davis said during her first presentation before the City Council.
Davis, who began in June, started out by giving the statistics, but the discussion soon turned to hot topics, such as officer-involved shootings, racial bias and misdemeanor marijuana enforcement.
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Her responses marked a contrast to former Chief Jose Lopez, who denied racial bias in the department and attributed racial disparities to police responding to high-crime areas.
Davis described conversations she and others have been having about how to change the culture in the department.
“There have to be constant reminders that we should be in a culture of intolerance as it relates to disparity treatment in black, brown and light brown communities,” she said. “We have to pay close attention to our tactics and how they are perceived by the community.”
The last time Durham experienced a dip in violent crime was in the fourth quarter of 2013, Davis said.
The decrease so far this year has been driven by a 9 percent drop in aggravated assaults, from 664 to 604.
However, all other violent crimes increased compared to the same time last year. Homicides rose 31 percent to 21, rapes rose 28 percent to 50 and robberies rose 12 percent to 402.
“We suspect that gang activity is associated with much of the violent crime that we are seeing,” Davis said. “And we are dedicating resources to gang intervention.”
The Police Department focused on 23 people believed to be involved in various violent crime activities, Davis said. Officers implemented a 90-day initiative in which they confiscated 45 guns, served 2,400 warrants and conducted more than 8,200 foot and directed patrols.
Meanwhile, property crime continued its downward trend with an overall drop of 12 percent. In the first six months of 2016, the total number of burglaries, larcenies, motor vehicle thefts dropped from 5,366 to 4,696 incidents.
Burglaries dropped 29 percent to 1,188, marking a 10-year low, Davis said. Larcenies dropped 6 percent to 3,178. Motor vehicles thefts countered the first two categories, increasing 8 percent to 330.
It’s common for burglaries to decrease in the summer because more people are typically home, she said.
Overall, reported violent and property crimes dropped a combined 10 percent.
Monday’s presentation comes as city and police officials have said addressing violent crime is one of the city’s top priorities, along with addressing strained relationships with the some members of the black and Latino communities.
In addition, the FADE (Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement) Coalition has been pushing for the City Council to take steps to deprioritize misdemeanor marijuana enforcement.
Council member Steve Schewel said he thinks the Police Department could have done a better job of responding in the La’Vante Biggs and Derick Walker cases.
Biggs, 21, was shot in September after police say he was suicidal and holding what they thought was a gun that he pointed at officers while he took one to three steps forward.
Police fired 12 shots, five of which hit Biggs.
Derek Walker, upset about losing custody of his son, was shot in 2013 after he pointed a gun at police and himself during a standoff downtown
Police departments are reevaluating how they respond to such encounters, the continuum of force, and how often officers are trained to make quick decisions in those situations.
“I think training is going to be important for our officers,” she said.
To address concerns about racial bias in traffic stops, the department needs to implement ongoing training, Davis said.
The department has to use data and intelligence to go after people who are committing crime versus spreading a broad net across a community, she said.
There have been many conversations among Police Department leadership about what’s next, and how best to police communities and build trust, Davis said.
“And that crime on one side of town is no different on another side of town,” she continued. “There may be just different types of crime, but we have to have an even hand on how we enforce law.”
Schewel also expressed concern about the impact even a low-level misdemeanor charge or conviction might have on an indvidual.
“I know the department has worked to deemphasize this for some time, and yet we still see a lot of arrests being made for this,” he said.
Davis said officers can send individuals to diversion programs.
“Whether or not they are being utilized on a large scale throughout the department, is part of what we have to do an analysis of,” Davis said. “Not just to analyze the number of people that go into the diversion program, but are the officers around the entire Police Department referring individuals in the diversion programs.”
Davis said they have been looking at the marijuana cases and examining whether they are typically a single crime or associated with other crimes. Lopez had said marijuana arrests typically came amid other changes.
“The other piece to that is that we have to enforce in a way that is equitable throughout the city,” Davis said. “Targeting certain communities you will reap what it is you are sowing.”