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Violent crime in Durham stops declining in third quarter

Durham’s sharp drop in violent crime in the first half of the year slowed during the summer, but city officials said they’re still encouraged by the overall trend.

Violent crime in Durham fell 17 percent through the end of September compared with the same period last year, Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis told the City Council Monday night. But violent crimes rose 5 percent from July to September compared to the third quarter of 2017, making the overall number less impressive than the 28 percent violent crime decline Davis trumpeted in her second-quarter report.

She also noted that homicides rose to 24 in the first nine months of 2018, up from 16 last year. Ten of the 24 homicides in 2018 occurred during the third quarter. Rape, robbery and aggravated assault remain down from last year, but all those declines were narrower in Monday’s report than they were three months ago.

“We’re trying to take the department from good to great,” Davis said. “We’re not where we’d like to be with homicides, but there are a lot of elements that have to do with homicides. A lot of it has to do with gang-related activity.”

City officials still seemed satisfied with the overall numbers. Council member Charlie Reece noted the violent crime rate through September was still down 21 percent from the five-year average from 2013-17, even as Durham’s population has increased 12 percent during that span.

No council member commented on or questioned Davis about the uptick in crime since her last report, and she shrugged it off as a normal fluctuation after the meeting, preferring to emphasize the yearlong decline.

“Violent crime down by 17 percent in the first nine months of this year over last year is a big number,” Mayor Steve Schewel said. “It’s hard to maintain, but let’s enjoy the fact that we are experiencing this success.”

Property crime fell 5 percent in the first three quarters, though that drop was also cut in half in the last three months due to a crime-heavy third quarter. Larcenies, which make up the majority of property crimes, dropped 7 percent through three quarters, burglaries fell 3 percent and vehicle theft rose 9 percent. Burglaries are at their lowest point through September in 10 years.

To combat the rise in vehicle thefts, the Durham Police Department launched a Park Smart Initiative in July, putting 150 signs at apartment complexes, parking decks and businesses in Durham reminding drivers of prevention tips. Davis said more than 40 percent of vehicle thefts occurred when keys were left in the car or the engine was left running.

“Every time you think about getting into a warm car, just keep in mind that the car may not be there when you go outside,” Davis warned as cold weather approaches.

The police department did improve its response times in the third quarter, though it is still short of its targets. Its average response time to calls was 6.03 minutes, a little more than its goal of 5.8 minutes. Police responded to 52.3 percent of calls within five minutes, less than their 57 percent target.

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