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Police chief presents “sobering” crime report for the first quarter of 2023

Homicides, rape incident reports, and property crime climbed in the first quarter of 2023, Durham’s Police Chief told the City Council on Thursday.

Homicides spiked by 27.3 percent and rape skyrocketed by 38.9 percent, reported Chief Patrice Andrews at a Council work session. Overall, violent crime fell 11.4 percent, driven by a 41.5 percent drop in robberies. 

Mayor Elaine O’Neal and other Durham officials have made it clear that violent crime is one of the city’s most urgent problems. On May 15th, Durham held a Day of Remembrance for the 18 children shot in the city so far this year. Attendees and speakers at an event at the CCB Plaza downtown that evening called for stricter state-level gun control laws, more secure gun storage, and increased employment and mental health services to stem the problem at its source. 

During the first three months of the year, the city saw 14 homicides, compared to 11 for the same period last year. Twelve of those slayings resulted from shootings, which leaped by 24 percent.  Police attribute the other two homicides to domestic violence.

Along with the increase in homicides and rape reports came a startling 59.7 percent rise  in motor vehicle theft.

“Social media has really driven our motor vehicle incidents,” Chief Andrews said, referring to the recent TikTok car theft challenge that shows how to take advantage of the lack of immobilizer devices in certain Kia and Hyundai models.

Durham’s car theft statistics are relatively consistent with the nationwide trend of increased motor vehicle theft that resulted in a $200-million class-action lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai. The companies agreed to a settlement on Friday. 

The average response time by Durham police for Priority 1 calls–the most urgent incidents–in the first quarter came to 6 minutes and 38 seconds, which is nearly a minute above the target time. “That’s a troubling number,” said Chief Andrews, who pointed to challenges in staffing and recruitment. 

Property crime totals brought more bad news, with both burglaries and larceny up 14.9 percent and just under five percent, respectively. The chief attributed the increase in larceny to quality of life problems, which she seeks to address using a new pilot program.

“We are hopeful that this initiative will help us address the quality of life issues focused around places and not people,” Chief Andrews said, “and how we can help to mitigate some of the crime trends and rates we see in areas that have been identified as hotspots throughout the city of Durham.”   

This is not the first time Durham has launched a special initiative to address crime. In 2021, the police department created Crime Area Target Teams tasked with conducting traffic stops and patrolling high crime areas. The first quarter report indicated that they had made 1,083 traffic stops and seized 70 firearms. Mayor Pro Tempore Mark-Anthony Middleton noted that some Durham residents had expressed concerns about what he called “overly aggressive” behavior at traffic stops.

“We are responsible with the way we deploy our units, and we are responsible with the way that we select our teammates that make up these units,” responded Chief Andrews, whose force has investigated three complaints, one from a community member and the other two from within the department. “We did a thorough investigation and we made…changes on our team,” she added. “We are walking the talk.” 

Although the report indicated that rape incidents have increased by 38.9 percent in the first quarter, Chief Andrews clarified that this jump accounts for the number of reports filed from January to March. She explained that 40 percent of the offenses filed in this time frame occurred in prior years. Police cleared 13 rapes in the first quarter, nine of which occurred in past years. 

After the presentation, Middleton praised the chief for her “excellent, sobering report about the state of things in our city.” 

Homicides remain the most concerning aspect of the report. “To date we have 19, the latest one happening last night,” Chief Andrews said, referring to a fatal shooting Wednesday.

She was unaware that as she delivered the crime report, another shooting was taking place just over five miles away, at the Avon Crossings Apartments.  At around 4:30 p.m., officers arrived at the complex to find two men with gunshot wounds—one seriously injured, the other pronounced dead at the scene.