The president of a local organization representing local law enforcement officers told the Durham City Council Monday night that they blame elected and appointed leaders for Durham’s challenges with crime.
“We felt if you supported the chief and the department the way he supports us, that we would not be having the problems that we are right now,” said Mike Evans, a retired Durham Police Department officer and president of the Fraternal Order of Police Durham County Lodge No. 2.
Last week, City Manager Tom Bonfield announced Police Chief Jose Lopez’s retirement at the end of the year. Bonfield said the chief was given the option to retire with notice, resign or be fired. In general, Bonfield said he was concerned about a rising crime rate, poor relations between the police and community and low employee morale.
Evans said Monday that police officers’ low morale stems from low pay, an issue that they have had for years, and city leaders who are not increasing the police force to keep up with the city’s population growth.
“It has nothing to do with the chief,” Evans said. “The police department supports the chief.”
Evans compiled figures averaging out the violent crime rates during the past four chiefs’ tenures. Those figures indicated that Lopez on average had the lowest number of violent crime incidents per 100,000 residents during his tenure, which began in September 2007.
City Council members have indicated they are concerned about the increase in violent crime in recent years.
The Fraternal Order of Police Durham County Lodge No. 2 has about 500 members, which includes officers from the city, the county and other agencies. About 35 members of the organization sat through the two-hour City Council meeting to show support for Lopez.
In other news, the City Council approved 6-1 an economic development incentive agreement with Longfellow Real Estate Partners worth $5.25 million.
Longfellow Real Estate Partners of Boston and Measurement Inc. of Durham announced last fall that they planned to develop a 1.7-million square foot science/technology “Innovation District” on 15 acres between Duke Street and Durham Central Park.
Their $87-million first phase consists of 126,000 square feet of laboratory space and 145,000 square feet of offices, an 820-space parking deck and a public park along Morris Street near Measurement’s Imperial Building. Longfellow also proposed about $8.3 million in public infrastructure improvements made to streets, sidewalks and items.
The $5.25 million will be paid over a 15-year period after the project is completed and the amount of promised capital is invested.
Councilwoman Diane Catotti voted against the incentive agreement. Catotti said she thinks it’s a good project, but the incentive, which represents about 70 percent of the projected incremental tax revenue, “is just too high.”