Reported violent crime in Durham remains above last year at this time, though not as sharply as a few months ago.
After the first six months of 2014, violent crime was up 30 percent over the same period in 2013. As of Oct. 11, the increase was 18.23 percent over a year ago.
The increase was driven by aggravated assaults – a rash of retaliatory shootings into occupied dwellings and vehicles early this year. For statistical purposes, each person inside the dwelling or vehicle, whether injured or not, is counted as a separate case of aggravated assault.
In the first quarter of this year, there were 254 aggravated assaults, up from 149 in 2013 – a 70 percent increase.
As of Oct. 11, there had been 879, a 32 percent increase over the 655 reported by that time last year, according to police data ( bit.ly/1xdaiLS).
“We’ve had some successes in some investigations,” said Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith. “We’ve had some good luck and right now we’re seeing a significant decrease.”
The shootings that drove early numbers up were largely due to a feud between two factions of the same gang, according to police: likely a power struggle that led to a series of retaliatory shootings.
“What I think most people would be shocked to hear is that this violence, most of it, was Bloods shooting at Bloods and fighting amongst themselves,” Smith said.
Gang-involved incidents account for about 7 percent of Durham’s violent crime, according to police crime analyst Jason Schiess.
In the city’s last survey of Durham residents ( bit.ly/1ypBuZ4), taken in early 2013, 78 percent of those responding felt gangs were a problem in Durham; 31 percent said that opinion was based on personal experience. The city commissioned the survey from the Kansas-based ETC Institute.
In a recent forum for District Court Judge candidates, Judge Pat Evans said, “We have a serious problem here in Durham with gang members.”
62% feel safe
On another hand, another poll, taken in early 2014 for the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau ( bit.ly/ZJWttg), found that 62.4 percent of those polled said they agreed with the statement “I feel personally safe in Durham.” The figure came from a telephone poll of 462 residents, selected to mirror the city’s demographics, DCVB CEO Shelly Green said.
The DCVB poll, by the Holly Springs-headquartered NanoPhrades, did not ask specifically about gangs; and it found only 43.5 percent of respondents agreeing that the police department is “doing a good job protecting and serving Durham residents.”
Among ethnic groups, African Americans had the highest opinion of police, 56.9 percent agreeing that the force is doing a good job. For whites the figure was 45.2 percent and for Hispanics 7.3 percent.
“Keep in mind the timing of this survey, in January,” DCVB CEO Shelly Green said, presenting the “State of Durham’s Image” report to the City Council on Thursday.
At that time, Durham police were receiving severe criticism for the shooting death of teenager Jesus Huerta while handcuffed in a police cruiser, and for alleged racial profiling and bias.
The poll represents “a moment in time and I think it’s great that this kind of information can be used to make improvements,” Green said.
The severity of the gang problem is a subjective judgment, Schiess said.
Some gangs in Durham go by nationally known names – Bloods, Crips, Norteños, Sureños, Latin Kings – but they are essentially autonomous groups, he said. There may be influence from outside Durham, but they are controlled locally, he said.
“Do we know we have gang members in Durham? Sure,” Scheiss said. “Do we know that those gang members are involved in violent crimes? Absolutely,” he said.
Gang violence usually involves money, “and most of the time centers around a drug transaction,” Smith said. “And oftentimes it centers around a woman. And every now and again it will center around someone felt they got disrespected.”
“We can’t have our heads in the sand and not be honest,” Smith said. “Do we have a problem with gang members, gang crime in Durham? We do, but not at the level I think that it’s perceived to be at times.”