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Speaking of crime: Wait for the laughing to begin

Durham crime numbers down -- again

A familiar refrain in the Herald-Sun and N&O today -- crime numbers are down in the Bull City. Homicides are at about the same level (11) as last year; should this rate hold throughout the calendar year, Durham's homicide rate per capita would rank below such urban gunfire hot-spots as South Bend, Ind., Providence, Palmdale, Calif., and Pueblo, Col.

Despite a spike in burglaries (driven, according to news reports, by the rise in lawn equipment and copper pipe/wiring thefts), overall property crime is down 2%, and violent crime altogether is down 11%.

Durham_crime What's interesting about these data is that they don't represent a one-year change, but the continuation of a many-year trend. Based on the statistics provided over at the City-Data web site, the overall "crime index" for Durham is down by 40% since 1999 -- still above the national average, but clearly trending towards average. Note too that these data end in 2005 and don't incorporate the further drop in aggregate violent and property crimes since then. (The red bar marks Durham's overall crime index, the orange bar the aggregated U.S. index.)

It's not a story you're going to hear every day in the paper (the N&O's lede today on the crime story: "There are 1,064 documented gang members in Durham, more than 300 more than were counted last year.") And certainly not something that you're going to see reflected in opinions of the Bull City from the eastern side of the Triangle.

And to be fair, there's still a long way to go. Crime disproportionately affects African-American and Latino members of our community and has had a devastating effect in parts of East Durham and Southwest Central Durham. But we're heading in the right direction.

It will be interesting to see which tact mayoral challenger Thomas Stith -- who's made crime in Durham a centerpiece of his campaign -- will take in the coming election. Will he continue to criticize what he's characterized as a non-response on the City's part to rising crime (a complaint that doesn't jibe so well with reality)? Or will he try to take credit, as a Durham City Council member since 1999, for the decline in crime rates? One can only wonder.


David Rollins

It's not the crime rate that matters, it's the perceived crime rate, especially given how it is exaggerated by the local media. (In this respect I must exempt WUNC radio, which is practically my only source of local news besides this website and the Tri Biz Journal).

Consider for a moment who benefits from a perceived high rate of crime. Right-wing politicians of Stith's ilk? Surely. Giuliani was wildly successful, despite ruining (IMO) my favorite neighborhood in the world -- Chelsea, the Garment District, the Flower District. The corner of 23rd St. and Sixth Ave. looks like suburbia, with Home Depot, Whole Foods, Olive Garden, and Outback Steakhouse all within a block of each other. Bloomberg did the same thing to Williamsburg, and I was gentrified out of the area when my unheated loft in a knitting factory was overrun by trustafarians. (Yeah yeah, I should have been an owner not a renter.)

Who else benefits? Real estate developers who'd like NIS to bulldoze wide swaths to make another Southpoint? Housing for New Hope? Self Help? American Tobacco, which has effectively walled itself off from the "high crime" community to the south?

Drug dealers who depend on Durham's reputation to ensure a steady stream of customers? (When I was young and stupid, one of my most memorable excursions beyond the walls of the gothic wonderland was to buy cocaine at the 24-hr. open air market on Piedmont St.)

Undocumented immigrants who look to Durham for cheap housing, knowing that the city is too strapped to enforce the housing codes? People such as myself who don't mind the occasional petty property crime in exchange for an "edgy" feel? Surely.

By the same token we pay dearly for this situation -- in the lives lost to gun violence; in the warehousing of young black men in the name of an immoral war on drugs; in the dreams deferred by inter-generational poverty; in the national disgrace wrought by Nifong. Just last week my garage was burglarized, at a cost of a lawnmower, a bicycle, and the peace of mind of my gun-hating wife (yeah yeah, she didn't know I was a gun nut until after we moved in together).

I don't have the answers to these questions. I'm just sayin'.


I must say, speaking for myself, those declining crime figures are little comfort. Perhaps they are of comfort to long-time residents, but not to me. Essentially, there are many like myself who simply wouldn't have considered moving five years ago to where we've moved recently. There was a valid perception that crime was out-of-control. Several people have told me what my block used to be like five to ten years ago. So it's a bit better now--so what? It feels safe enough that I'm buying a house here, but it doesn't feel nearly safe enough. I don't mind the "edgy" feel, but the occasional petty property crime really isn't ok.

I don't know if anyone has a pulse on where Durham's leaning with this mayoral election. Perhaps kudos are in order to Bill Bell for creating a climate that brings investment, business, and, finally, residents near downtown and the urban neighborhoods. But I'd prefer a more dramatic drop in crime, and I'd guess that the other new residents will demand this, too. I certainly don't have the background and facts to speak intelligently on where Durham has been and where it's headed, but I do know that I don't take solace from these crime numbers.


I may vote for Stith as the lesser of two evils; I don't think crime is our biggest problem, but I also can't stand Bell's cronyism and the things done on his watch by NIS.

For council I'm excited to see Funderburk run; he is an incredibly talented administrator as evidenced by the growth of Duke's portfolio (returns as well as income -- my opinion is that we will surpass Harvard given another 70-100 years!).

The Nifong challenger (Monks, I think) deserves a vote, but for the third spot I'm torn between Eugene Brown (for his good service) and Victoria Peterson (for sheer entertainment value).

I don't expect any of my choices to win, but then again as the kids say these days: "Voting Is For Old People". I vote with my dollars and feet every day, and it seems to work better than the ballot box.

Kevin Davis

Thanks for the comments, all.

Dave -- I certainly don't think we have any reason to be 'satisfied' with the progress to date. I do think Durham's on the right track, though. I think your story is telling; five years ago you wouldn't have bought your home, but now you were willing to. What's more, you're going to be an advocate for better policing, better city services, and so forth. What I think you saw last week with the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood was a collective "what the..." from City leaders as a similar demographic of new-ish residents (and many long-term residents too) weren't willing to accept business as usual, and stood up for the change they wanted to see.

It's a giant positive feedback loop: active neighbors and neighborhoods, leads to reductions in crime and neighborhood cohesiveness, leads to improvements in the quality of life in the neighborhood -- leading more active neighbors to move in.

When I lived back in Massachusetts, the wife and I considered buying a condo in Lowell. (You can tell I've just got this thing for funky older historic cities.) We ended up moving down here first, but looking at the crime stats, I wouldn't have moved to Lowell ca. 1995, but certainy was ready to by 2003-2004ish. Same thing's happening here.

David -- I hear where you're coming from. My big fear with Stith, though, is that you're getting someone who's essentially nothing but a mouthpiece for big development (Southgate Jones & Gary Hock have given him practically all his $$$ to date) and the John Locke idiot-logues of North Carolina. Stith couldn't be any more effective in the Mayor's seat as he could with his current Council seat; my guess is it'd just be a launching point for more press and PR for him in prepping to run for statewide or other offices thereafter.

I'm a bit skeptical of Stith given his Art Pope ties but also given what I take to be a politically convenient yet unconvincing sudden concern in crime in Durham. If crime is going down under the status quo, what part of the status quo do I want to change?

We'll talk a lot more about the Council elections as fall approaches. I noticed the "Ali" signs out this weekend, so politics are in the air. I for one am happy that David Harris is running; given the challenges neighborhoods have had with the City these last few years, another voice from the INC/PAC perspective would be welcome. I've been happy with Eugene Brown's engagement. Catotti's, too, but this Cleveland-Holloway matter has shaken that a bit. I don't think I'm ready to decide anything, though, until I learn more about Farad Ali, Funderburk and some of the other candidates.

PS -- Duke catch up to Harvard's endowment? H. just reported reaching almost $35 billion in endowment funds, which is up 700% since 1994. There's some serious compounding Duke's gotta do to reach those numbers. Which is why I tell cow orkers that I still think of Duke as a 'poor school' ($$$-wise) compared to its peers, something that most folks can't quite comprehend. Duke spends its money much, much more efficiently and effectively, though.

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