Greensboro, or what Durham could and should be
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Durham and crime: Hyman hits the heart of the matter

We've talked here before about Durham's crime and image issues, in excruciating detail in fact. Pulling together the data I quoted in the post on crime levels in Greensboro versus Durham reminded me of Frank Hyman's strong, succinct summary of Durham's crime problems in his column appearing in this week's The Durham News:

Stith contrasts Durham's crime rate with the lower rates of our whiter and wealthier neighbors (the black populations of Cary, Chapel Hill and Raleigh are 3 percent, 16 percent and 22 percent, respectively).

Incumbent mayor Bill Bell compares Durham's crime rate with cities more similar in race and income demographics -- Greensboro and Winston-Salem. Both have a population that is 37 percent black and crime rates higher than ours. The City of Durham has been roughly 50-50 white and black for more than a century.

Which comparison matters most? In the 23 years I have lived in Durham, Republicans have complained on an almost daily basis that because our crime rate is worse than our neighbors' (and our tax rate and our schools, roads, etc.), "no one will want to move here." But somehow 100,000 people -- of all races and ethnicities -- ignored their real-estate agents' dire warnings and moved to Durham anyway....

When there's a rough correlation between crime rates and proportion of poor and black people in American cities, what we are seeing is a map of the aftershocks of prejudice based on race and income. Only a small percentage of the people subjected to prejudice are going to react by adopting a violent or drug-ridden lifestyle, but it doesn't take many before you've got 20 or 30 people a year being murdered or nearly 100 women being raped or about a thousand drug addicts creating a market that sustains various criminal retail enterprises.

Though Hyman is raising the point in reference to mayoral candidate Thomas Stith's attempts to raise the issue as part of his campaign for mayor, the point is relevant even outside the frame of this campaign. We can't look to economically exclusionary islands like Cary as a model for what Durham 'should' look like. Nor can we expect crime to disappear simply by declaring that we're going to get "tough" on it.

When I look at crime levels in Durham versus Greensboro and see that violent crime has not only been dropping for five years in the Bull City while stagnant in Greensboro, but on a per-capita basis is 13% lower in Durham today, it strikes me that we're doing something right.

Ultimately, though, the problems of crime will be solved, as Hyman points out, by investing in and improving Durham neighborhoods and youth -- a goal that runs hand-in-hand with improving policing and law enforcement operations.



Some root causes are continuously left out of the crime discussion. More police is treating the symptom. More magistrates is a little anesthetic to numb the pain.

There is one particular guy (according to crime listservs) who breaks into a series of homes to support his drug problem, is arrested by police, serves a little time, and gets out and starts the whole process again. Should he and other addicts be sent to jail or rehab? Should mentally ill people be sent to prison or Murdock?

Wake County Sheriff was recently quoted in Triangle Business Journal as saying "If you build it they will come..." No matter how you interpret that its messed up. I hope we don't have the same mentality in Durham.

This is just one example but we needed to look at changing our justice system. I would rather pay for this guy to go to rehab for however long than continuously sending him to jail and having him breaking into properties to support his habit.

Also, crime is lower when people have jobs. A lot of manufacturing jobs left when Nortel, IBM, etc. outsourced those facilities. Those jobs were shipped over seas not too long afterward. We need to continue attracting the Pella window manufacturers along with the CSFB and Fidelity's.

Sorry for the length...yet I still didn't give the issue its due justice.


I just read an email with the following story...

It's also interesting that McCormick Baron Salazar is involved with some redevelopment activities in Durham...

Michael Bacon

You're going to have to try harder than that to top me for average length of comment, Khalid... ;)

That's a phenomenal article. I saw the folks from the Million Dollar Blocks project at AAG this spring, and it's a great statistic. (11 blocks in one part of Brooklyn, with the state paying $12.4 million annually just to lock up people whose last address was in those blocks.)

Our prison system is a mess, our drug treatment programs are almost non-existent, and our mental health programs are a disaster. Add in our housing policies, and it's no wonder we can't solve this crime problem.

Stith, for all his talk about change, is offering nothing but "more of the same" on this front.


Anyone get the new mailers? We got two from Bell (generally positive, talking about various stats, leadership, etc), and one from Stith, talking about Bell's leadership of the Mutual (extremely negative, playing the race card and so on).

Kevin Davis

Khalid: Thanks for forwarding that along. It's an inspiring story of an anti-crime initiative that really gets to the root of crime. I wonder if anyone has similarly quantified the cost of some of our toughest city blocks. That story should be required reading for the folks on City Council and Jose Lopez.


Great posting. Thanks for writing it.


Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! That will decrease alot of your crime in poor areas. I lived in several large urban cities along the east coast and in those cities, the neighborhoods where people had jobs, the adults and their children were less likely to participate in criminal behavior and in other areas where unemployment was high I would often see drug dealing, gang banging, regular killings, robberies, small scale identity theft etc..

People need jobs. They need a reason to become productive participants in society. They need to be able to see the benefit of their labor meaning job mobility, increase pay (raises)which often leads to access to ownership of property, the ability to care for a family, seeing the importance of civic participation etc..

Instead of more police, jails and prisons, society needs to target at risk individuals with access to better education, employment training that actually leads to jobs and job creation for all.

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