Let’s Try (and Fail) to Make Sense of Durham’s Latest Crime Stats | News

Let’s Try (and Fail) to Make Sense of Durham’s Latest Crime Stats

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This post is excerpted from the INDY’s morning newsletter, Primer. To read this morning’s edition in full, click here. To get all the day’s local and national headlines and insights delivered straight to your inbox, sign up here.

Back in November, we put together an infographic looking at what the Durham Police Department’s third-quarter crime report told us about whether the Bull City was becoming safer. It was, as these things tend to be, a mixed bag. Homicides were down, but rapes, and violent crimes generally, were up. Burglaries were down, but robberies and vehicle thefts were up. And so on. At last night’s city council meeting, police chief C.J. Davis gave a similar presentation to the council, this one on the annual crime report, and had a similar story to tell.
  • From the Herald-Sun: “Violent crime overall had a slight increase in 2017 compared to the previous year. In 2017, 244 people were shot compared to 214 people shot in Durham in 2016. But homicides were way down [from forty-two in 2016 to twenty-one in 2017].”
  • There was a 28 percent increase in rape reports. “Davis said there is no indication of serial type cases, but rather that people feel more comfortable. reporting them as part of #MeToo movement. Davis said that some rape reports were belated by months up to six years, ‘significant enough for us to see individuals are feeling more comfortable coming in and reporting crimes that may have occurred some time ago.’”
  • Traffic stops and searches have also decreased under Davis: “Traffic stops in Durham have had major drops over the past seven years, according to data presented by DPD Monday night to the council. The overall rate of searches in 2017 was 4 percent, which is the lowest rate in eight years.”
  • She also updated the council on the police force’s demographics: “City residents are 38 percent white and 40 percent African-American. DPD sworn officers are 66 percent white, 27 percent African-American, 6 percent Hispanic and one percent listed as "other." Sworn officers are also 83 percent men and 17 percent women. Davis noted that is higher than the national average of 13 percent female officers.”

WHAT IT MEANS: So what does this tell us about the safety of Durham? Realistically, no more than we probably already knew. Durham is pretty safe in some neighborhoods, less so in others. The decrease in homicides could be just as easily chalked up to bad shooting—since more people were actually shot—as anything else. Conversely, the rise in rapes could be attributed to an atmosphere more conducive to reporting sexual assaults than an increase in occurrences. There’s not really a uniform trend here. But the DPD significantly decreased its traffic stops—down to 11,578 from a whopping 32,227 in 2010—it has significantly reduced the percentage of searches those stops have produced, and those searches have produced a significantly higher percentage of hits, which together are indications of smarter and less capricious policing.


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