When you live in Durham, crime and the fear of it are never far from your mind.
Thus, Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith’s recent report to the City Council on crime in the first half of 2014 was not exactly a surprise: More rapes, assaults and robberies. Only homicides declined from the same period in 2013.
Not exactly a surprise, but nonetheless disappointing, for Durham had been basking in a dip in crime.
And let’s hope that the city recovers that momentum, because it has a perception to overcome not only in North Carolina, but also the nation. A surfeit of good eateries amid a downtown renaissance can’t do it alone.
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The Internet has upended how America accesses information. No matter where you are, it’s now possible to see a city like Durham from the inside out just by typing “Durham NC crime” into Google’s search box.
No site seems to agree totally with the others, but all spew out numbers putting Durham outside the norm on crime.
One site that struck me as more reliable than others is Areavibes.com, which evaluates everything from neighborhoods to entire cities. The site’s statistics are based on 2012 data, usually the latest that you can find.
Whether you accept Areavibe’s statistical portrait of Durham or not, the data create a portrait of the city that is, to be blunt about it, unpleasant to read.
For example, Areavibes reports 738 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants (a standard statistical measure), more than twice as many as for North Carolina.
The figures for property crimes per 100,000 here were 4,874, compared to 3,370 for the state, which in turn was higher than the nation.
In personal terms, Areavibe says Durham is safer than 6.1 percent of America’s cities (other sites say 7 percent), in part because the city has 2.6 police officers per 1,000 residents compared to 3.9 for the state.
What does all this mean for you and yours?
Areavibe distills the stats for being a victim of violent crime here to one in 136. The probability of property crime in one in 21.
Other cities’ crime stats matter little. Crime, like politics, is local. What happens in your neighborhood or to you forms an indelible imprint of the city as a whole.
A caveat regarding crime stats reported by outfits such as Areavibe and Neighborhood Scout.com: Zip code 27517, the “Lost Province” in southwestern Durham County, is actually a Chapel Hill address.
I couldn’t find out whether Areavibe includes crime stats for 27517, but Neighborhood.com doesn’t. The crime rate in 27517 is fairly low, so it likely would have a minor impact on Durham’s overall statistics.
Anyone who has lived in Durham long enough to know the city can pinpoint where most violent crime, and much property crime, occurs: Northeast Central Durham.
This quadrant is ground zero for black-on-black crime, home base for violent gangs adept at drive-by shootings, and the realm of the poorest in Durham.
Under Mayor Bill Bell, the city is making another attempt to get a grip on Northeast Central Durham. The mayor’s boots on the ground are working their way through the most impoverished census tract, collecting data for an action plan.
This may be the equivalent of juggling Jell-O, but wish the mayor’s effort well. It’s far better to do something instead of nothing. The something is getting Northeast Central Durham out of poverty, and the only way to do it is with jobs.
There, crime is real and immediate – it’s not a perception. But for those outside Durham, this is where their perception of the city originates, cold and unforgiving, in statistics.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.