Police chief, mayor try to reassure public in wake of homicides

Jul. 02, 2013 @ 04:44 PM

Durham’s mayor and police chief on Tuesday called on the community to help police solve and prevent crime.

During a news conference, they reassured the public that they have no reason to live in fear, despite a recent spate of homicides in the city.

 “As mayor, I have consistently said that crime reduction and solving crime is not solely the responsibility of law enforcement agencies,” Mayor Bill Bell said at Durham Police Headquarters. “We must have the help and support of the community.”

The news briefing followed the violent deaths of four men in separate shootings over the past two weeks, and at least seven more cases of gunfire, some resulting in injuries.

Police have charged one man with murder in one of the deaths. In another homicide, a man has been charged with assault, and investigators are seeking more suspects.

The concentration of nearly a dozen outbreaks of gunfire in two weeks has shaken many in the community, leaving some to wonder if they can live in safety and with peace of mind.

But Bell said he and others thought it was important to hold the news briefing “to reassure the public that they have nothing to fear, and that we’re working to continue to reduce crime.”

Bell said that all of the 13 victims of violent death in first half of this year were black, as are all the suspects identified by police so far.

“As an African-American male, it is really disappointing to me that all the deaths this year were African-American males,” Bell said. “We in the African-American community especially have got to find ways to keep our African-American males from continuing on this path of destruction of themselves and of others.”

Bell said his comments should not be interpreted to mean that only blacks are committing crimes, “because they’re not. But the fact is that for the past six months, African-American males have been involved in those violent crimes that resulted in the death of individuals, and that has got to stop.”

The mayor said drug activity is linked to some of this year’s slayings.

“I don’t claim to have the solution to preventing these crimes,” Bell said. “But, clearly, for some of the violent crimes that are happening in our community, there are ties to illegal drug activity – either selling or using drugs.”

He said law enforcement and the public must move “more aggressively” to “drive the source and demand for drugs out of our community. We’ve got to send a message, by words and actions, that dealing drugs in our community is not and will never be acceptable.”

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said that two of the 13 violent deaths this year may not be ruled as homicides “due to circumstances surrounding the deaths.”

Lopez said none of the deaths were random acts, meaning that in most cases, the victims and assailants knew each other. He said some of the victims were engaging in crime.

He said that during the same time six-month period, the city had 11 homicides last year, 18 in 2011 and 16 in 2010.

So far, he said, police have made four arrests in this year’s deaths.

Lopez said the Police Department’s success in solving and preventing crime improves when a victim’s family members and others in the community cooperate with investigators.

“And to the non-cooperating family member and friends of those participating in crime, we sincerely urge you to help us stem such criminal acts to avoid additional loss of life, including the life of your loved one,” he said.

Lopez said citizens can report crime anonymously to CrimeStoppers at 919-683-1200. And thanks to a 2011 law, he said, the identities of 911 callers are protected, with only voice-altered recordings released.

“Right now, what we’re seeing are individuals who apparently are having discord among each other, and they’re using violence and immediate, unthoughtful means by which to handle their situation,” Lopez said. “They’re acting out of anger, and they don’t have the courage and strength to step up and be better persons.”