Durham is a city in the midst of a serious spike in violent crime, and the leaders are rightly sounding alarms. The numbers speak, shockingly, for themselves.
In 2015, the city endured 42 homicides, the most since 1980. In 2014, there were 22. In that year, there were 95 people shot or who suffered shooting-related injuries. Last year, the number was 198. By comparison, Raleigh had 17 homicides last year, the same as in 2014.
By the end of the first week of 2016, there had been seven victims of gunfire in Durham.
While some residents say the deaths and shootings are fueled by gangs, police officials aren’t sure. In Durham’s high-crime neighborhoods, however, gang battles over turf and drug trafficking seem to be increasing.
Police are establishing special teams to address the problems in neighborhoods across the city. And they’re even focused on 19 people they say have a “high probability” of being involved in some of the upturn in violence. Some have been in jail and are out, and others are on probation. Still others may not be under any kind of supervision.
Larry Smith, interim police chief, said, “I have been with the Police Department now almost 28 years, and I haven’t seen quite the level of shootings we’ve been having in the city as I have seen” in the last eight months.
The city’s search for a new chief won’t be helped by the spike in violent crime.
Mayor Bill Bell deserves credit for getting out in front on the issue, acknowledging it and sounding the alarms.
Durham police have reached out, as they must, to residents to help them identify criminals and potential criminals. But in those high-crime neighborhoods, there is understandable fear. The News & Observer cited the example of one man who said he had seen what happened in a recent shooting but would not tell police even if they asked him. That is the level of fear.
But CrimeStoppers remains a hope for the police. The number is 919-683-1200, and there are cash rewards for those who provide information that leads to arrests in felony cases. Callers are not required to identify themselves.
Bell clearly feels a sense of urgency, and he should. The first priority is making the residents of his city safe. But he and his city council also are going to have to have a long-term strategy not just to stem the surge in violence, but to make Durham a safer place in the long term and to have a strategy for reducing crime, not just stopping an increase in it. Otherwise, the tremendous progress Durham has made in economic development and in polishing a modern image over the last years is going to be at risk.