Crime rise troubling

May. 06, 2014 @ 05:05 PM

No community is immune from crime, and Durham by and large is a safe city where folks go about their daily business unharmed and secure.

Still, the city long has been seen by many, especially by those elsewhere in the region, to have a crime problem.  Crime is one of the gravest threats to Durham’s otherwise surging forward momentum, along with not unrelated challenges with public-school performance and a relatively high poverty rate. That last metric exists alongside one the highest median household incomes in the state, a striking and troubling sign of income inequality.

Given that, another quarterly report of crime on the rise is troubling. It is true, as Police Chief Jose Lopez Sr. said Monday as he briefed the City Council on the report, that “crime isn’t linear.” There always will be spikes, up or down, that might not reflect any broader trend.

But the first-quarter increases come on the heels of an uptick in crime in the second half of last year after dropping through the first half.  Crime was up 4.3 percent for the year, so the 13 percent jump in this year’s first quarter over last year’s confirms that we have at least a brief, steady climb in the rates.

Violent crime was up 36 percent, driven in large part by a 70 percent increase in the largest category, aggravated assault. Violent crime also includes rape -- which declined 17 percent but, thankfully, accounts for a fairly small number of crimes -- robbery and homicide.

Property crime -- a category that impacts by far the largest number of people and which is most likely to target random victims -- also increased in the first quarter, up 10 percent over the same period last year. 

Lopez believes his department is taking significant steps toward stemming the property crime increase with several recent arrests of suspects tied to multiple crimes.

The chief also pointed to the nature of some violent crimes that helped drive up the number of those reported. Some of the crimes were what Lopez called retaliatory violence targeting multiple persons.

“We’ve had a bunch of cowards shooting into occupied dwellings and into crowds,” he said Monday. “If you shoot into a house with 10 persons inside, that’s 10 victims for one incident.”

We grant his point but we confess we’re not sure we feel better for knowing we’re experiencing that kind of mayhem. 

The chief made it clear he and his officers are refining tactics and deploying resources to counter the recent trend, and that is good to hear.

Those efforts acknowledge the point Mayor Bill Bell aptly made in responding to “A bad start” to the year.

“We’ve got to find a way to do better,” he said.

Indeed we do, if we don’t want crime to undercut so much that is going well in Durham today.