Amid complaints, police tout crime-fighting success

Oct. 10, 2013 @ 07:43 PM

Reductions in violence in North-East Central Durham observed after the Durham Police Department launched extra patrols there in the late 2000s are holding, police commanders and other officials said Thursday.

Overall, violent crime in the 2-square-mile “Operation Bull’s Eye” area centered near the intersection of Alston Avenue and Main Street is down 39 percent from the levels that existed in 2006 and 2007, they say.

The department’s also seen reductions in the number of complaints it fields about drugs, shots fired and prostitution, issues it monitors to gauge how residents see the area’s quality of life.

“When the police use data-driven approaches to targeting crime and emphasize partnerships with the community, and those police/community partnerships are effective, these types of significant declines are possible,” said Jason Schiess, the department’s analytical services manager.

Schiess did most of the talking at a morning news conference called by the department amid complaints from some quarters about its tactics.

Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith, who heads the operations side of the department, afterwards acknowledged that officials opted to hold the news conference to highlight one of its successes.

Operation Bull’s Eye was an initiative that began under former Police Chief Steve Chalmers. It was meant to target an area that, as of 2007, accounted for a disproportionate share of the city’s gun crime, shots-fired calls and “validated” gang members.

Grants and other temporary funding enabled commanders to assign more officers to the area, paying them overtime as needed.

Back at headquarters, Schiess and other analysts kept close track of the number of violent gun crimes that occurred there, a subset of overall violent crime.

The count of gun crimes in the Bull’s Eye area dropped from a 2006-07 before-launch high of 184 to a low of 80 in 2009-10.

It’s rebounded a bit since then, coming in at 100 in 2012-13. But overall, that’s still about a 46 percent reduction.

Other figures show similar fluctuations, but the general pattern of a reduction since 2006-07 holds.

Schiess acknowledged that Bull’s Eye remains, in relative terms, the highest-crime part of Durham. But where it once accounted for about 20 percent of the city’s violent gun crimes, it now sees only about 15 percent, he said.

He added that the department is using similar sorts of analysis, citywide, to give its five district commanders an idea of what they need to work on.

“We’ve seen a 31 percent reduction in violent gun crime throughout the city,” Schiess said. “That could not be possible with only the Bull’s Eye being targeted.”

In addition to highlighting crime trends, Thursday’s news conference was notable for the efforts of Police Department officials to call attention to their alliances with community organizations.

Commanders highlighted support that the Bull’s Eye initiative received from the pastors of Union Baptist Church and Angier Avenue Baptist Church. Durham Rescue Mission founder Ernie Mills appeared in a video about the program, and East Durham Children’s Initiative President David Reese participated in Thursday’s news conference.

Reese said east Durham is becoming safer thanks to cooperation between community groups and police.

Thursday’s news conference occurred a week after other groups told the city’s Human Relations Commission that it should press for greater civilian oversight of the department and a curb on its use of “consent searches” of vehicles.

There have been questions about racial profiling and the department’s handling of recent officer-involved shootings.

An assistant chief, Winslow Forbes, also has complained to federal equal-opportunity regulators about having been passed over recently for a promotion to deputy chief over support services.