Durham News

Feuding gang factions led spike in violent crime

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 up18.23 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. By the end of June, there had been 587, up from 391 at the end of June 2013 – a 50 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.

“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.

‘Subjective judgment’

The intramural feud was between a group from the Southside area and one in the Glenbrook Drive area off East Club Boulevard, Smith said, likely a power struggle that led to a series of retaliatory shootings.

Gang-involved incidents account for about 7 percent of Durham’s violent crime, according to police crime analyst Jason Schiess.

In a 2013 survey of Durham residents ( bit.ly/1ypBuZ4) 78 percent of those responding felt gangs were a problem in Durham; 31 percent said that opinion was based on personal experience. In a recent forum for District Court Judge candidates, Judge Pat Evans said, “We have a serious problem here in Durham with gang members.”

The severity of the problem is a subjective judgment, Schiess said.

“What I would say is that, Do we know we have gang members in Durham? Sure. Do we know that those gang members are involved in violent crimes? Absolutely. So to some extent, is there a problem with violence among gang members in Durham? Yes, there is,” he said.

“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.”

‘It is drugs’

Some gangs in Durham go by nationally known names – Bloods, Crips, Norteños, Sureños, Latin Kings for example – but they are essentially local groups, Smith and Schiess said.

“There certainly may be influence (from outside Durham), but there’s not organization control nationally,” Schiess 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.”

Gang members are often involved in breakins, sometimes retail theft and prostitution, according to Schiess and Smith, but primarily in drugs.

“It is drugs,” said Police Chief Jose L. Lopez. “That’s what drives the majority of the violence in the city, is drugs. ... It’s business, that’s exactly what it is.”

Drug-dealing isn’t all gang-related, though, Lopez said. “Individuals who have their own niche of friends and they just sell to their friends. They’re not part of gangs or anything like that.”

Using data

Durham police, and other organizations in the city, have programs meant to keep youngsters from joining gangs, such as the Police Athletic League and Police Explorers – a joint program of police and the Boys Scouts – and the county extension service’s Project BUILD.

Police also use social media to track gang activity and data analysis that can quickly connect suspects with other criminal incidents, known associates, addresses, arrests, vehicles, telephone numbers and other information into graphic “association charts.”

“Over a period of time it gives us a pretty decent picture of who’s associating with who, where, what kinds of cars they may be active in, and that helps us when we have this high potential for retaliation to get an idea as to who would be involved ... and what’s the most likely area for that retaliation to occur,” Schiess said.

That sort of intelligence analysis has helped in bringing down the number of aggravated assaults.

“During the course of this (investigation) several of the same names kept coming up,” Smith said. “A couple of them we’ve been able to get into custody. One in particular ... our forensics unit was able to pick up a fingerprint off (a) shell casing, and tie it to someone who’s not even supposed to be in possession of a firearm and now he’s in federal custody.

“We’ve also got a couple of investigations where the federal government is assisting us,” he said. “We’re hoping to wrap those up in a couple of months. We think these numbers are going to continue to come down.”