Study finds 5% of crime gang-related in Durham

Jun. 26, 2014 @ 06:29 PM

Five percent of reported crime in Durham is gang-related, but violent gang-related crime is up and Durham ranks among the worst in the state for truancy, according to an assessment report released by the Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center.

Jim Stuit, gang reduction strategy manager with the Criminal Justice Resource Center, said the 2014 assessment has been  in the works for a year. During the course of the year, data were collected from the Durham Police Department, Durham Public Schools and community perspectives.
According to the assessment, about 5 percent of reported crimes in Durham between 2009 and 2012 involved a validated gang member as a suspect or victim.
“We believe that is a pretty low percentage,” Stuit said. “(That) shows us that the majority of the crime … probably isn’t being done by gang members.”
Durham City Manger Tom Bonfield agreed with Stuit.
“To me, the good news in the report is the small percentage of crime that is committed (by gangs),” Bonfield said. “It puts that in some context.”
However, during that same time period, there was an 11.2 percent increase in violent crimes involving a validated gang members.
Stuit said the increase comes from aggravated assaults with the use of a firearm, often involving multiple victims like drive-by shootings. 
For Bonfield, those crimes, while in theory only a single incident, have the potential to become more.
“Shooting into a house with 10 people is 10 crimes,” he said. “It has the potential to be 10 homicides near you.”
The information contained in the assessment will be brought to a steering committee composed of community officials and stakeholders who can make public policy changes, Stuit said. Bonfield and Durham County Manager Wendell Davis co-chair the committee.
“I think it’s going to be a very useful tool for the steering committee,” Stuit said.
Stuit said the issue of aggravated assaults with guns is an area the steering committee is going to be “laser focused” on in the future.
Bonfield said the steering committee isn’t set up to necessarily fix every finding highlighted by the assessment, but rather to engage in conversations that look to find possible solutions while setting obtainable goals. 
Another problem the assessment pin-pointed was the rate of truancy in Durham Public Schools. 
“That is one of the factors and indicators that can lead up to (gang involvement); it does start with the fundamentals around behaviors and school,” Bonfield said.
The assessment found that two middle schools and five high schools rank in the bottom 10 percent of state’s 2,375 schools. In DPS, Southern, the Performance Learning Center, Northern, Lakeview and Hillside all rank in the bottom 10 percent.
“What we’re seeing is that kids that are truant from school are typically unsupervised,” Stuit said, thus creating a situation “ripe for criminal activity.”
DPS has a system in place that Stuit said tries to combat truancy in its early stages.
After three instances of truancy, a teacher or school official makes contact with the parents and refers the student to a school social worker.
After six absences, a “six day letter” is sent home and the student is referred to a school-based truancy court. The truancy court decides on an action plan and follows up with the student.
Once 10 absences occur, another letter is sent to the parents from the principal and the district attorney. At the 10-day point, parents could be prosecuted under North Carolina state law.
“(DPS) is working very hard on it,” Stuit said. He said that school resource officers are a good tool to combat truancy, because they can take the time to figure out why a student is being truant.
Bonfield said has seen major strides in helping deter gang-related activity since the creation of the steering committee, and he sees it accomplishing more.
“It has caused us to come together in a regular basis and not just exchange information but try and be more strategic about what is working and what is not.”