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(Updated) Turn the page: Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez is out, but who can mend the city?


Update: City Manager Tom Bonfield emailed me last night with data from the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau. This graph shows violent crimes per 100,000 starting in 2009 to presumably the first six months of 2014. It then makes a full year projection using the trend line. 

This shows there were gradual increases from 2009–2012, a big drop from 2012–2013, and then a significant increase for 2014. 

When U.S. Department of Justice analysts Scott Decker and Hildy Saizow visited Durham this spring, they were alarmed that the murder rate of young black men in the city is eight times the national average.

In a presentation before City Council, Decker said:

“If you think of any of these social conditions, which are troubling and problematic, were eight times higher for a population subgroup than the overall U.S. rate, it ought to cause an outrage. It ought to cause a call to action.”

That call to action happened today when City Manager Tom Bonfield announced the forced resignation and retirement of Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez.

Lopez, who was hired in 2007, will leave the department Dec. 31.

If you look at Lopez’s record, his defensive personality and poor public relations skills notwithstanding, it is less than illustrious. National Nights Out and youth basketball games are all well and good, but on a street level, Lopez’s lack of leadership translated to a lack of community trust—and worse, more killings.

Here are the violent crime statistics over the past year:

As of a Sept. 5, DPD report, violent crime (homicides, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults) is up 14.2 percent over the same period last year. There have been 19 homicides, an increase of 35.7 percent.

The 920 aggravated assaults represent a 15 percent increase in those crimes.

If you look at the first six months of the year, the picture gets no prettier:

Homicides are up 60 percent compared to the same period in 2014;

Aggravated assaults are up 13 percent

Reported rapes decreased by 25 percent, which offset the overall increase in the violent crime rate: 13.5 percent over 2014

Add in the conclusion by the Human Relations Commission that DPD, whether consciously or unconsciously, engages in racial profiling.

Add in the history of officer-involved shootings and excessive force: 

Last week a DPD officer tasered an African-American man at the Harris-Teeter on Ninth Street, after accusing him of trespassing

La’Vante Biggs and Derek Walker, who were both threatening suicide and had guns when they were shot and killed by an DPD officer. Many community members criticized the department for shooting instead of deescalating the situation. 

Jose Ocampo, who was shot and killed after he allegedly brandished a knife. However, it’s unclear how close to officers Ocampo was, and there have been doubts about the justification of the shooting.

Carlos Riley, who was accused of shooting an officer during a traffic stop. It was later revealed at trial that the officer shot himself during the altercation. A jury found Riley not guilty.

Jesus Huerta, who allegedly shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a DPD car. The officer in charge of patting him down was later found to have violated protocol. He was placed on administrative leave but not fired.

And last year, John Tucker, formerly of the INDY, wrote that “Several Durham police officers lied about non-existent 911 calls to try to convince residents to allow them to search their homes, a tactic several lawyers say is illegal. The officers targeted residences where individuals with outstanding warrants were thought to be living, and told them that dispatch had received a 911 call from that address, when no such call had been made."

More on this story as it develops—the city will undertake a national search for Lopez’ replacement —but readers, are there any police chiefs that are doing it right?



Scott Koon

And now the city will do a nationwide search for candidates. Lopez was himself a hire resulting from such a nationwide search. To my mind, this may not be the way to go. North Carolina is its own place, Durham is a unique city. Why not look internally and at the sheriff's department, and maybe broaden the net to surrounding counties? Getting the culture of a place right is important, and I don't know, for example, if so someone at a large urban department in another part of the country would "get" it so much as someone more local. The chief does have administrative support, so there is continuity, even though it would seem that a break in continuity is what is desired.

Also, to what extent was response or over response to protests linked to Mr. Lopez's desire to spend more time with his family? And the larger questions regarding the Huerta case still need to be answered, I've always thought it odd a kid would carry a .45 with such an immaculate train of ownership. Are drop guns a thing at the Durham PD?


I can't like this enough on Twitter or share my joy at this announcement quite enough.

My hope for Durham is a police chief that doesn't make the news, stands in partnership with residents, respects the community that is here. It's not 'us against them' in Durham and our policing model should reflect that.

Khalid Hawthorne

Is Durham really unique? Every city that I live...I find an area or side of town that reminds me of Durham. Durham is very similar to College Park and Decatur in Atlanta. Similar to the eastside of Cleveland. Similar to parts of Baltimore.

The point is...any police chief needs to have his feet on the ground and build coalitions with the community. Durham actually has a better relationship than many cities across America. Plus they don't have police union bosses who make inflammatory statements and hinder investigations for possible transgressions.

Our next police chief needs to be looking at building partnerships with the county social services and judicial system. They must realize that they will NEVER solve these ills with police enforcement alone. The Bull's Eye was effective at 'Weed'ing but did we provide enough 'Seed' in this targeted area?? a 20% drop in homicides good??? We have to be careful in our pursuit of measurable outcomes...

Brian Hawkins

We have to be careful in our pursuit of measurable outcomes...


While I am happy to see a change in leadership, I am more than a little concerned that it (appears) to have taken some unfavorable numbers to catalyze it. If the success metrics for Lopez's successor are going to be numbers-focused, we're going to get numbers-focused policing.

Ask the folks up in Baltimore how that's gone.

Anonymous Coward

This analysis of crime data is just unfair, and honestly I expect more from BCR. You're looking at year-over-year info, but then extrapolating it to be representative of Lopez's entire tenure.

Why don't you do a comparison of crime from 2007 vs 2014, or 2007 vs. first half 2015? What does that crime rate look like? I know it has been dropping for several years up until 2014. Also, is Durham's increase greater than its peer cities? Crime is rising nationwide, and there have been notable stories in the NY Times and other papers about it as of late.

Also, quips like "who allegedly shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a DPD car" are just shit. Why put in allegedly? Has there been any credible evidence to the contrary?

Honestly, I've been really let down by the tone Ms. Sorg has set on this blog. More of this crap and I'll stop reading soon. I know you have a bias and that you're on a mission and all, but this blog is supposed to be about detailed analysis, not manipulation of data.

Phil Marsosudiro

Can someone remind us what the process is for selecting Durham's Police Chief? It the City Council involved with the search from the beginning, or do they simply give yea/nay to the City Manager's recommendation, or something in between?

Michael Bacon

Okay, Anonymous Coward, we can do this with a bit more context.

Under former Chief of Police Chalmers, violent crime and property crime fell steadily, actually faster than the national average (which was also falling). Durham's comparative position to other similarly sized cities moved to being one of the safest. Under Chalmers, who cut a fairly reserved figure in public and was seen as at least partially implicated in the handling of the Crystal Mangum/Duke lacrosse bungle, the Partners Against Crime groups were among the most engaged and active civic groups in the city. In the last budget he submitted, Chief Chalmers requested set of additional police officers so that both community police efforts and more "normal" police duties could be serviced.

Upon his hiring, Lopez cancelled the request for more officers, and simply starved the staffing levels for the community policing efforts. The Partners Against Crime efforts appear to be dead in all but name. Complaints of racial profiling have risen, as have bogus tactics like the ones Lisa mentioned. Trust in the Durham Police at a city level has, in my experience, fallen to new lows. Whereas 10 years ago I would say that the general take in the city towards DPD was, "yeah, cops . . ." now there is an atmosphere of active suspicion and distrust. And yes, as stated on other thread, I think that can lead directly to higher violent crime and higher murder rates.

It would take me a few hours to do a full geospatially linked and correctly adjusted crime analysis, but the top line trends over the past three years simply don't look good, no matter how you look at them.

The main complaint for getting rid of Lopez centers around his handling of a number of high profile cases and statements to the media. And those still hold true.

Durham deserves a police chief that deals sensitively with the family of a loved one who died in police custody, regardless of what exactly happened in the back of that squad car.

Durham deserves a police chief that doesn't defend officers who blatantly lie in court about a traffic stop gone horribly wrong.

Durham deserves a police chief that engages with civic groups as a public servant, rather than as a petulant public scold.

Durham deserves a police chief that does not say that a public defender "had it coming" when he gets shot at outside the courthouse.

All of this should have been enough to bury Lopez even if he had the crime rate going down. But he doesn't. Crime is increasing on his watch. And that means, however hard working or well intentioned he was (and I think he was both, at least in the broad sense of intentions), he needed to go.

I am very grateful to Tom Bonfield for making what must have been a tough call to negotiate a termination with his first major hire.

Khalid Hawthorne

I wish I could 'like' your comment Michael.

Is that true regarding Partners Against Crime?? If so that is a travesty as it was highly effective depending on the particular district.


I think Chief Lopez cared about Durham, but I also think he couldn't break the barrier of trust between his department and many different communities in Durham. That anti-violence event Ken Davis covered with under 50 people in attendance last week speaks proof to it. Any time anything happens with police using force, such as the recent Harris Teeter incident, the public automatically jumps to certain conclusions without the full story even being released because of the type of treatment they know has happened in the past. Cases that shouldn't have been controversial with a fair amount of evidence supporting the 'official' DPD storyline also became firestorms for the same reason. We need a police chief that is more hands on and opened to the public. It would be great to have someone who can be seen in the community besides when they are arresting people or defending the actions of an incident gone awry. Instead of using shady tactics like having officers use fake 911 calls to gain access to homes, the concept of community policing would be a better direction to address the problems the people in those homes are facing. Lopez might have tried outreach but it never felt credible once his reputation was established as a defensive guy who would side with his officers actions no matter how the community felt. It was deaf to the needs of the people who need the police the most yet feel like they can't trust them. That trust barrier is deeper rooted than Lopez's tenure though; it would be unfair to pin it all on him. The stigma of "snitching" and not wanting to appear publicly close with the police are a barrier from the other side that can't be completely contributed to the police themselves. Hustlers, dealers, and other criminals hold a large share of the economic and cultural power in impoverished areas because they are the ones seen thriving in the neighborhood. I grew up in a neighborhood elsewhere where that was the case and it's a sentiment that is true in Durham too. Addressing that will take more than good policing. And there are other factors in play beyond the police for why the violent crime spike has occurred recently and a lot of it is outside of the city's direct control. But the city should control what it can. They can control who leads the department and I think it was the right move to decide we need someone else.

Lisa Sorg

Phil: The city manager is responsible for hiring the police chief—that's who the chief ultimately reports to—but council is involved in the vetting. That's a personnel issue, so those interviews are not public. Jose Lopez was hired under then-city manager Patrick Baker (now the city attorney).

As to Anonymous Coward's comment, first, violent crime in America is not rising.

As of 2013, the last year in which figures have been made available, it is now at levels not seen since the 1970s. There are many reasons for this, and the Atlantic has an interesting discussion:

In Durham, violent crime is down from the late '90s and early 2000s, but that's hardly enough. That's like saying a C minus is better than an F. Yes, it's an improvement but not reason to celebrate.

The point is that under Lopez, the violent crime rate increased. Young black men are being killed at eight times the national rate. There have been many questionable police actions. (I used allegedly in the Jesus Huerta case to acknowledge there are still unanswered questions about the situation. Had defense attorney Alex Charns not revealed previously unknown information in the Carlos Riley case, we'd still think Riley shot the officer.)

I have not manipulated any data, although data tells only part of the story. And it's unlikely that Lopez was forced out for just one thing. I sat at City Council meeting after City Council meeting in which Lopez gave a presentation about crime or racial bias or whatever the issue du jour was, and the mayor and Council, while civil, were clearly displeased. I met with the Chief in person for an interview in January 2014. I found him to be reasonably amiable but also very defensive. He was also very defensive in public, and he could definitely be that way in phone interviews. That did not help engender trust in the community.

Brian Hawkins

I would like to endorse everything Michael Bacon says above.

And follow it by pointing out that the best thing about this is that we don't have to talk about Lopez anymore. As the comments already show, as long as he was around, the conversation about policing in Durham was always going to come back to whether he should keep his job or not. And that ultimately detracts from the larger and more important question of what needs to happen and stop happening within the DPD for it to regain the trust of the community it serves.

The question of leadership is certainly part of that...but only a part.

Anonymous Coward

@Lisa Sorg-
Again, you're flat out wrong.

First, from the same source you cite, but two weeks old instead of one year old:

Let's look at crime from 2006 until 2012, which is the last year the FBI has uniform crime data available:

2006 is the last full year before Lopez started his tenure. As you see, crime dropped. You're wrong as per the last available UCR. If you have data on the actual 2015 year-to-date rate; or the 2013 or 2014 rate, please present that. Not just year-over-year data.

It's fine to support either side of this issue, given that your argument is supported by the facts. but please, for the love of god, give an actual analysis of the facts.

As an aside, can we please go to writing a byline at the top of the articles here so that I can immediately know which articles are not worth my time reading?

Kelly Jarrett

One of the things I've always liked about BCR and appreciate about its return is that it has been a forum for conversation and discussion of Durham issues. People don't always agree-and sometimes strongly differ. But discussions have generally been open, courteous and free of the vitriol and flame wars that characterize the comment sections of many media outlets (see N&O comments for an example), where anonymous writers sling insults at each other and bully those who disagree with them. I understand there may be times when people feel a need to write here anonymously (an employee of a government agency making public comments or criticisms about their workplace, for example). But generally, at least here, most people have used their names and that has contributed to the productive conversations. In that light, I appreciate most of the comments here. Those made anonymously have met the expectations I generally have for anonymous posts.

Brian Hawkins

"As an aside, can we please go to writing a byline at the top of the articles here so that I can immediately know which articles are not worth my time reading?"

Comments too, please.

Michael Bacon

I'm utterly confused as to what Anonymous Coward is so upset about.

Paying attention to six-month murder rates for one city is not generally a helpful thing to do -- murders are an infrequent enough thing that one multiple homicide event can skew the statistics significantly. The violent crime rate is usually a much stickier figure, since the numbers are larger and it includes all aggravated assaults, which in turn includes assault with a deadly weapon, assault with intent to kill, and so on. In other words, aggravated assaults are the kinds of things that end up as murders in some cases.

Durham VC rate per 100k: 923.5
NC VC rate per 100k: 473.7
Durham to NC ratio: 1.95

Durham VC rate per 100k: 794
NC VC rate per 100k: 480.2
Durham to NC ratio: 1.65

Durham VC rate per 100k: 744
NC VC rate per 100k: 358.6
Durham to NC ratio: 2.1

So, from 2002 to 2007, the five years before Lopez took over, Durham's ratio to the state ratio dropped from 1.95 to 1.65. From 2007 to 2012, the five years for which we have data that Lopez was in charge, Durham's ratio to the rest of North Carolina rose to 2.1.

I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to see here to defend Lopez with.

Lisa Sorg

Here is the link to the Durham crime stats as reported by DPD. They are listed under crime statistics.

Here is the link to the Sept. 5, 2015, DPD YTD report:

As for the violent crime rate rising, I read the story you linked to. While the story says it is increasing in major cities, the national data has not been compiled, nor released, yet. In 2013, again, the last year in which we have complete data, the violent crime rate was down not only nationwide but in many of what are considered to be dangerous medium-size cities (~200K people), such as Flint, Michigan; New Haven, Connecticut, and Paterson, New Jersey.

Other more troubled cities are figuring it out. Surely Durham can.


By the way, that New York Times article about rising murder rates in selected US cities has been somewhat discredited as cherry-picking. Here's one piece that looks at the whole picture and finds that, in reality, crime hasn't changed much in recent years.

Anyway, as to the story itself, I'm grateful that Durham will get a fresh start and new leadership at police headquarters. I trust that the city manager will get input from the broadest possible range of voices in our community about the qualities we need in a new police chief, and that he will find us the right person for this moment in Durham.

Anonymous Coward

Again, I'm not defending Lopez, I'm simply trying to make sure we are using real, actual numbers if we're trying to make an argument based on numbers. Lisa's critique used year-over-year numbers, and then used that to justify the fact that crime increased on Lopez's watch. The numbers she used don't show that crime increased on Lopez's watch, only that it increased over the first eight months of 2015 when compared to the first eight months of 2014.

If we want to make a numbers-based argument, then we need to actually present numbers in a correct way--exactly the analysis you have presented. Your argument makes sense, and is based in fact. That's all I'm asking the author of this piece to do.

I'm with you on the needing to look at the overall VC rate, which as you see above is exactly what I do. The numbers presented by the author in the original piece are, as you point out, meaningless (the analysis added by the author is simply that Lopez has resulted in more killings, mostly by looking at the rolling 8 months of crime data we have so far this year).


I'm more annoyed at the tone Anonymous Coward takes toward Lisa. I doubt if Kevin had written the exact same thing the replies would be either anonymous or so pointedly critical.

This work is done for free as a service for the Durham community. Respect the authors. Respect the conversation.

Michael Bacon

Anonymous Coward, in addition to hiding behind a pseudonym and making some rather pointed ad hominem comments about Lisa, I would say there's nothing in particularly wrong with Lisa's use of the numbers as a quick sketch of the direction that crime is going in year-over-year numbers. Yes, I get as annoyed as anyone when the conversation stops at year-over-year numbers, but there's nothing wrong with letting it start there, particularly in a quickly written response to the news of the day. If it were a more in depth piece, your criticisms would have some grounding, but I really don't see a legitimate source for the sting in your argument. (And I say this as someone who got a bit carried away on the transit discussion and threw around some stronger language. I'll own that. I can do that because my name is at the bottom of all of these things.)

You would seem to have an axe to grind. Please bury it before discussing this further.

Ray Gronberg

Michael Bacon, Chief Lopez was not Tom Bonfield's "first major hire." He was in fact hired by Patrick Baker, in the summer of 2007, when Baker was about six months away from himself being prodded by the council to step down as city manager to return to the city attorney's office.

My recollection aat the moment is that Joel Reitzer as general services director was Bonfield's first big hire, but I could be wrong or at least have the sequence wrong.

Michael Bacon

Ray, thanks, I completely had that wrong in my head. I was trying to recount the timeline, and the distance in my head between the Connor's firing and Lopez's hiring didn't seem like long enough to cover Baker's tenure, but I figured I was just missing something.

Michael Bacon

Bonfield currently listening to good ideas:

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