Three gun crimes a day
In the first 201 days of the year, 742 crimes were committed in the Bull City with a gun present. That is almost 3.7 crimes a day.
In the same time frame – Jan. 1 to July 20 – in 2013, 607 gun crimes were committed, according to numbers provided to The Herald-Sun by the Durham Police Department’s Crime Analysis Unit.
For all of 2013, 1,152 gun crimes were committed. That equates to about three crimes a day, which is in line with what the city has experienced in the first 201 days of 2014. Durham is not alone in seeing numbers rise in the first part of 2014. Greensboro saw a 641 crimes in 2013 involving guns, or about 1.8 crimes a day. However, comparing Jan. 1 to July 20, 2013, to the same time this year, crimes involving guns rose from 330 to 345.
Winston-Salem saw 1,679 crimes where a gun was present in 2013, or 4.6 crimes committed per day. From Jan. 1 through July 20 this year, Winston saw 1,044 crimes involving guns, up from 906 in the same time period in 2013.
For the Durham Police Department, the slight increase in gun-related crimes is concerning because of what is causing it – aggravated assaults involving multiple victims.
“We have a big problem this year with people shooting up houses and cars, and that will really spike your numbers,” said Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith.
When a gun is shot into a home where five people are inside, that means it’s one incident, but is counted as five aggravated assaults. If the house was empty, the crime would then be classified as vandalism.
“What we’re seeing is crime trends are not unique to Durham,” Smith said. “It seems to be the new way to deal with problems is to go get a gun and shoot the house up. That really concerns us as a law enforcement agency.”
Some community leaders have also raised concerns about situations devolving into violence and how the weapons are getting into perpetrators’ hands.
“A lot of these (crimes) are common conflicts that become deadly,” said Marcia Owen, director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham.
One of the major problems, Owen said, is the number of crimes committed with stolen guns.
“Every responsible gun owner can have an impact,” she said.
Jim Stuit, gang reduction strategy manager for Durham County, echoes Owen’s concerns about stolen guns.
“What we’re finding in Durham is the violent crime rate using a weapon that begins to trend upwards at the age of 16,” Stuit said. “A lot of the guns they are picked up with are stolen.”
He said responsible ownership plays a key role in preventing those guns from entering into the wrong hands.
“(There is) no excuse for a firearm to be stolen,” Stuit said. “If there is one (in a house), it should be locked up. “
Smith of the Police Department said guns are a hot commodity to nab during break-ins.
“We’ve gotta encourage people to properly secure their firearms,” he said. “They love to get firearms, because most of the people we deal with in violent crimes are prohibited from owning a firearm.”
In Durham, the discussion of gun crimes is a constant for Mayor Bill Bell.
“It’s a concern,” he said. “I’ve had concerns since day one.”
He’s set up a roundtable of various city and county officials to look at the rates of violent crimes in the city as well as gun crimes.
Bell said the community has to look at the broader issue to solve the problem – why people are committing these crimes.
“It’s not unique to Durham, but it’s in Durham where we’re having the issue,” he said.
FIGHTING GUN CRIMES
The Police Department has a multi-prong system for combating any type of crime -- enforcement, education and prevention, Deputy Chief Smith said.
He said along with education and prevention programs, DPD has a specialized ATF task force that looks at gun-related crimes, which helped prosecute 35 cases last year. So far this year it’s helped in 22 cases.
He said the community needs to help combat gun violence, as well.
That’s where Jennifer Snyder comes in. Snyder is the coordinator for Project Safe Neighborhoods, a group through DPD that helps advocate and educate neighborhoods in the city about crime prevention.
Snyder has been working with PSN for six years, and during her time, she’s created initiatives to help partner the community with law enforcement to combat gun crimes based upon monthly statistics.
“This year it’s very focused on which of these (crime prevention) strategies actually target gun crime,” she said.
Philip Cook, professor of public policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke who has been studying gun violence since the 1970s, noted that there needs to be an overall community strategy to reduce gun violence.
“The ultimate goal is to try and make a gun a liability to a criminal or a delinquent, so they’d rather not carry it,” Cook said.
Stuit, who works mainly with gang violence in the county, agreed, noting that educating the younger generation of Bull City residents can make all the difference.
“Youth are caught up in these moment-specific goals,” Stuit said. “That’s not a good place to be in.”
Stuit said by having the community involved– whether it be the schools, parents, police officials or anyone with influence on the younger generation – will help show that these moment-specific goals can’t be solved through violent acts.
“(The community) needs to teach these kids, and practice other alternatives to solving their problems,” he said. “Then they won’t end up in court with a gun charge,” he said.
The city can’t do much in the way of creating new gun laws because the state laws override those, but Cook said he believes the police force and court system can play a crucial role in reducing the presence of guns.
With increased police priority, Cook said the court system would also have to show a clear stance on prosecuting gun crimes, then public mobilization and education comes into play.
“To some extent that can be influenced by police priority,” he said. “Making sure the message gets out on the street that they take it seriously.”