Goodbye to the summer of 2015, a season riddled with homicides, assaults and property crimes. And goodbye to Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr., who got his walking papers last week from City Manager Tom Bonfield effective Dec. 31.
Bonfield wants fresh thinking in the police department, and Lopez wasn’t the guy to deliver it. Lopez eventually forfeited too much trust among too many people to remain effective.
Durham is a hard burg for police chiefs. We have a reputation as Dodge City East, a tough town where gunslingers walk the streets and drug dealers stake out territories, where gangs seduce young black and Latino males, and where little seems to mitigate this social pathology.
A single incident such as a killing on July 2 illuminates the city in the minds of outsiders and residents alike.
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Call it ho-hum homicide because it’s so common: Christopher Lee Allen, 18, was charged with shooting 17-year-old Anthony Tremaine Glenn near the intersection of Holloway and Raynor streets. They apparently had had a dustup in a nearby AutoZone store.
After so much of this disorder, you begin to accept a certain level of mayhem in Durham as a condition of life. As a driver swerves to avoid a pothole, you swerve around trouble – particularly East Durham, the epicenter of violent crime.
The troubles this summer may or may not suggest a trend toward higher crime rates in Durham, which is in the middle ground of American cities in criminality. However, there is no mistaking that in other cities from New York on down, crime is again on the increase after a 20-year hiatus.
Part of this can be attributed to post-Michael Brown activist groups such as Black Lives Matter, who have adroitly put police departments on the defensive. That Brown was responsible for his death in Ferguson, Mo., has nothing to do with it – he was a store-robbing thug transfigured into a martyr, a “gentle giant” cut down at 18 by a white officer.
The subsequent anti-police movement, up to and including brazen murders of officers, has led many departments to ease up on their most important responsibility: maintenance of public order.
In other words, suppression of those quality-of-life and criminal offenses that degrade city life – prostitution, gangs, illegal firearms and so forth – ideally undertaken with cooperation of law-abiding people affected by them.
That cooperation exists in Durham, particularly in Police District 3. Unfortunately there isn’t enough of it in East Durham.
I agree with the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that studies the socio-economic pathology of cities, when it says “creating an environment that is not conducive to illegality, rather than seeking to punish illegal conduct after the fact, is the key to preventing crime.”
Hear, hear – that’s the nub of it. And, of course, easier said than done. But it can be done, and New York City’s success with the “broken window” theory of policing proves the case. Civil libertarians rail at stop-and-frisk as an insult to the Fourth Amendment, but it took handguns away from criminals and wannabes in the Big Apple.
Unfortunately, the rise of feckless progressive mayors such as Bill de Blasio in New York and Stephanie-Rawlings Blake in Baltimore has put a dent in such effective policing. Crime rates are once again on the march.
Policing in Durham has been under assault by ad hoc far-left groups for several years. They vehemently accuse the department of racial profiling and unnecessary violence, of being trigger-happy against black and Latino males.
Gaining trust among minorities, who live in amid a constant drumbeat of victimization by The Man, requires not only police accountability but also mediation by faith and community service organizations. Durham has no lack of them.
Because effective policing can’t be done without the consent of the civilian population, building and maintaining trust among the suspicious, who see every cop as a hammer ready to drop, demands a strong level of community involvement.
We can do it – if we really want to. This city has a surfeit of hearts and minds that once mobilized and coordinated with a revitalized Durham Police Department can grasp the best of all outcomes, crime prevention.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.