Crime still down, but not like earlier in 2013

Dec. 16, 2013 @ 09:57 PM

Crime through the third quarter of the year was down 0.4 percent from its level at the same time a year ago, Police Chief Jose Lopez reported Monday to the City Council.

Lopez said that means crime in Durham, as measured annually at the end of October, was at its lowest level in the past 14 years.

But the figures implied a more substantial decrease that was apparent earlier in the year hasn’t held up. Crime through the second quarter of 2013 was down 6 percent from 2012 levels.

The chief acknowledged there has been a string of violent offenses – homicides and other shootings – of late that have “made the headlines.” He said authorities are “focusing on these incidents” and already have made some arrests.

Figures released after his presentation showed that there were 8,996 major crimes through the end of October, compared to 9,036 the year before.

The numbers masked a 7.7 percent reduction in violent crime, which includes homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. There were 1,174 such cases through Oct. 31, versus 1,272 last year.

Property crime – burglary, larceny and vehicle theft – was up 0.7 percent.

Trends on that front drive the overall crime rate because property offenses account for the bulk of the Police Department’s caseload. There were 7,822 major property crimes through Oct. 31. A year ago, there were 7,764.

Lopez didn’t go into a lot of detail about the figures in his presentation. And the comments from the council afterward didn’t touch on them at all, as members instead focused on some of the controversies surrounding the department.

Those involve mainly allegations of racial profiling lodged by some interest groups, and questions about the handling of a trio of police-involved shootings that have taken place since July.

The third of those shootings, of 17-year-old Jesus Huerta, has drawn particular scrutiny because the teen was in custody, handcuffed in the back of a patrol car outside headquarters, when it happened on Nov. 19.

Lopez last week said Huerta died of a self-inflicted wound. Investigators found a pistol on the floorboard of the patrol car and are now looking at how it came to be in the car.

Two council members, Steve Schewel and Eddie Davis, said city officials need to find a way to relay more information to the public sooner about such incidents.

The State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing all three of the recent police-involved shootings. But it’s not clear when it will finish its work and Schewel said the state agency is laboring with an inadequate budget.

Given that reality, “we’ve got to figure out a way to inform our public,” he said. “I understand the need not to undermine the SBI’s investigation, but we’ve got to figure out a way to inform the public of key facts much sooner.”

Davis, a newcomer to the council, reiterated the support for greater openness that he voiced this fall on the campaign trail.

“Some of these things have been lingering for months and I know we don’t want to rush to judgment, but too many of them have occurred too often without the transparency that the citizens of Durham deserve,” he said.

Mayor Bill Bell, however, said officials need to let the SBI do its work.

Bell said he’d spoken recently with N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and SBI Director Greg McLeod to underscore the importance of the investigations.

“I understand the impatience people have, but there’s a process and I hope you would allow the process to go through and trust that this council would want it done as quickly as possible, but will want it done right,” Bell said.