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Bars, nail salons and a head shop are among recipients of COVID-19 relief funds

Editor’s Note: After we published this story yesterday, we asked about a recipient that seemed odd to us – Ascot Diamonds, Inc. a chain jewelry store that received $20,582 but did not appear to have a store in Durham. Today, Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell told us they had sent us the wrong list and gave us a new list without Ascot Diamonds included.

Why was Ascot Diamonds included on the first list? Chadwell told us that was a mistake of the city’s vendor, Carolina Small Business Development Fund, due to a “data population error.” 

We’re retaining the list below, with Ascot Diamonds, since that is what the city originally sent us. We’ve posted the new spreadsheet the city sent us today here. It also contains changes in the list of loan recipients, removing Ascot and adding a $10,807 loan to Quality Academy Home Daycare. 

Just a reminder: The 9th Street Journal filed a public records request for this list July 23, so the city has had almost six weeks to get us the correct list.

– Bill Adair

An eclectic group of businesses ranging from bars to nail salons to a head shop received grants or loans from the city’s COVID-19 small business relief program, according to records released Monday.

The city had been boasting about the program for weeks but didn’t release the list of recipients until Monday after a public records request from The 9th Street Journal. Among them: a $10,000 grant for Hunky Dory, a store specializing in “beer, records and dankness,” a $10,000 grant for artist Maya Freelon – the sister of just-appointed City Council member Pierce Freelon – and a $20,000 loan for Pour Taproom. 

Local businesses got about $915,000 from a $1 million Duke University contribution for grants and $225,000 in loans from Durham’s $2 million fund. Eight businesses got loans that averaged about $28,000 and 124 got grants that averaged $7,500. 

Of the 124 grants, 19 were given to barber shops, hair salons, nail salons or other personal care businesses and 15 were given to food and beverage-related businesses. As for the loans, two were given to bars or breweries, two to beauty and nail salons, one jewelry store, one plumbing, heating and air-conditioning contractor, a restaurant and a mental health/substance abuse treatment facility. 

In July, Durham had boasted of giving out hundreds of thousands in relief in a several-month process, but city officials said they didn’t know which businesses got the cash until now. Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF), a Raleigh-based small business lending nonprofit which managed the program, had committed to disclosing to Durham which businesses got the money monthly but did not comply with that requirement. 

A full list of the grants and loans can be found below.

July Grants

Amy T Farrar DDS PLLC 2020-6-25 $10,000.00
Cargo and Co LLC 2020-6-18 $5,837.00
Living Arts Collective 2020-6-19 $8,480.67
Re Entertainment 2020-6-18 $907.17
southern cross group llc 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
LE NAIL SPA 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
A1 lock and safe of North Carolina Inc 2020-6-26 $10,000.00
Durham School for Ballet and the Performing Arts 2020-6-26 $10,000.00
Carson Efird LLC 2020-6-26 $10,000.00
Bungalow LLC 2020-6-20 $10,000.00
Heal Tree LLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
Happymess at Outsiders 2020-6-18 $8,779.86
HUNKY DORY DURHAM LLC 2020-6-19 $10,000.00
Blackspace LLC 2020-6-18 $8,123.00
Brown Jiu Jitsu Academy 2020-6-27 $10,000.00
Indulge Catering LLC 2020-6-26 $10,000.00
Goes to 11 LLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
Blue Corn Inc 2020-6-28 $10,000.00
The Bella Shea Ramirez LLC 2020-6-22 $5,637.83
Family Greens 2020-6-27 $10,000.00
36 North LLC 2020-6-25 $10,000.00
Rogue Business Solutions LLC 2020-6-18 $7,179.83
Allure Me The Hair Estate INC 2020-6-19 $6,385.00
LUXURY NAILS SPA 2020-6-19 $10,000.00
Rock Fury Industries LLC 2020-6-18 $6,524.83
Lucys Pet Care LLC 2020-6-23 $10,000.00
AGT Express LLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
Denoble Law PLLC 2020-6-28 $10,000.00
MA Solucion Professional Inc 2020-6-27 $1,704.17
SA Core LLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
Omar Beasley Bail Agency 2020-6-25 $10,000.00
Point A B Consulting 2020-6-28 $5,638.00
Wendy Allen 2020-6-25 $10,000.00
Allways Handy Home and Garden LLC 2020-6-28 $2,102.00
Mid South Fencers Club Inc 2020-6-26 $10,000.00
A2Z College Planning 2020-6-25 $6,230.00
MTS Speech and Language Services Inc 2020-6-24 $10,000.00
The Endurance Collective 2020-6-21 $6,118.17
Kendall Corporation LLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
Wright DIY LLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
Elevate MMA Academy LLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
MICHAEL E POCINKI 2020-6-28 $340.67
Comfort CUisine 2020-6-27 $1,722.00
Yama Inc 2020-6-19 $10,000.00
The Famous Chicken Hut 2020-6-20 $10,000.00
Lets Eat Soul Food llc 2020-6-26 $113.17
TGX Development LLC 2020-6-24 $4,270.50
The Curated Curl and Co Hair Loft 2020-6-19 $9,601.00
The Law Office of Katie A Lawson PLLC 2020-6-18 $6,042.00
Nancy Frame Design LLC 2020-6-24 $6,301.00
Yinsome Group LLC 2020-6-25 $1,293.17
HuthPhoto LLC 2020-6-26 $3,907.33
Stan Coffman 2020-6-24 $10,000.00
Principal Janitorial Services LLC 2020-6-22 $2,259.50
Empower Dance Studio 2020-6-24 $8,203.17
Suzanne Faulkner 2020-6-26 $5,190.00
Pro Shop Solutions LLC 2020-6-24 $7,526.83
The ZEN Succulent LLC 2020-6-26 $10,000.00
Scatterbugs Vintage Inc 2020-6-24 $10,000.00
The Artisan Market at 305 LLC 2020-6-19 $3,424.50
Triangle car Service llc 2020-6-23 $10,000.00
Sonic Pie Productions LLC 2020-6-22 $8,949.17
Jeannette Brossart 2020-6-28 $2,141.00
doora arts and crafts 2020-6-28 $2,583.67
Methodical Magic  LLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
JMS Catering 2020-6-23 $2,064.67
Medrano 1205 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
VILLAGE ITALIAN PIZZERIA LLC 2020-6-23 $10,000.00
PARKS BARBER SHOP 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
John William Scotton 2020-6-22 $5,101.83
Lakewood Hairquarters and Retail Inc 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
Nailz 2020-6-28 $5,057.50
BCause It Takes A Village LLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
Rushin Global LLC 2020-6-18 $5,514.17
George Stevens Insurance Agency Inc 2020-6-19 $10,000.00
Judith Romanowski Attorney PLLC 2020-6-18 $10,000.00
Next Level Tax Services 2020-6-19 $3,278.67
Community Expert Solutions Inc 2020-6-26 $3,338.33
PecanBacks Inc 2020-6-24 $10,000.00
Tysha h Cox 2020-7-19 $3,694.33
Echo Family Group Inc 2020-7-22 $10,000.00
NewSchoolInvestmentsLLC 2020-7-20 $6,856.17
Little Mangum Studio LLC 2020-7-23 $6,154.50
Alpha Nano Tech LLC 2020-7-20 $10,000.00
United KB LLC 2020-7-24 $10,000.00
Kathy Smith Yoga LLC 2020-7-22 $10,000.00
Alexandra Hamer 2020-7-22 $2,874.00
Green Ribbon LLC 2020-7-24 $10,000.00
The Pinhook 2020-7-23 $10,000.00
Maya Freelon LLC 2020-7-24 $10,000.00
Scorpions School Of Martial Arts 2020-7-21 $4,270.17
Triangle Gluten Free LLC 2020-7-20 $853.67
Vo Family LLC 2020-7-23 $10,000.00
Rapid Results Fitness 2020-7-24 $10,000.00
October Forever 2020-7-22 $1,341.67
SOLAY Counseling and Research Center 2020-7-27 $9,605.67
CC AND P ASSOCIATES LLC 2020-7-27 $10,000.00
True Colors In Home Daycare 2020-7-27 $2,311.67
Modu Martial Arts 2020-7-29 $10,000.00
The Pampered Woman 2020-7-28 $10,000.00
Full Strength Flexibility 2020-7-28 $4,780.00
Veda K Brewer 2020-7-29 $779.33
Croissanteria LLC 2020-7-27 $6,197.17

August Grants

Matthews Somatics LLC 2020-8-3 $3,017.00
Jadas Mens Accessories 2020-8-1 $549.17
Shirley S Abraham 2020-8-2 $2,718.83
Getaway Travel Inc 2020-7-30 $10,000.00
Elegant Nail 2020-8-6 $10,000.00
Last Minute Event Planning 2020-8-11 $637.50
Wood Water LLC 2020-8-11 $10,000.00
Clean Hands Painting LLC 2020-8-5 $10,000.00
LEE NAILS 2020-8-14 $10,000.00
A AND P PAINTING INC 2020-8-13 $10,000.00
Borders Barbershop LLC 2020-8-4 $5,629.50
HT Travel Inc 2020-8-20 $8,742.67
WORLD CLASS TAKWONDO ACADEMY 2020-8-20 $10,000.00
HOLSEN C VASQUEZ MENDEZ 2020-8-20 $10,000.00
LE NAIL SPA 2020-8-25 $10,000.00
Luxury Nails Spa 2020-8-25 $10,000.00
Principal Janitorial Services LLC 2020-8-25 $2,259.50
Infinity Benefits Group Inc 2020-8-24 $3,894.67
CASTRO REMODELIN LLC 2020-8-22 $10,000.00
Glimmer and Glow LLC 2020-8-23 $2,465.00
Ronalds Unisex Barbershop 2020-8-27 $7,948.50

Loans

Jayk’s,LLc 2020-7-2 $30,000.00
The Glass Jug 2020-6-19 $35,000.00
Fernandez Community Center, LLC 2020-6-21 $35,000.00
Celine Vu, INC 2020-6-22 $33,000.00
Silver Spoon Restaurant 2020-7-10 $35,000.00
Saloon Salon, LLC 2020-6-18 $15,000.00
Ascot Diamonds, Inc. 2020-6-26 $20,582.00
Quad Triangle Taproom LLC 2020-6-18 $20,000.00

9th Street Journal staff writer Ben Leonard can be reached at ben.leonard@duke.edu

Group running Durham business fund has kept city in the dark

The group running Durham’s $2 million COVID-19 small business relief program was obligated to tell the city which businesses got the cash. But the city has yet to find out. 

In July, Durham officials boasted in a press release about giving out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. Yet over a month later, they admit they still don’t know where the money went. 

The city is supposed to get a monthly report. The Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF), a Raleigh-based small business lending nonprofit, committed to disclosing which businesses got money from a fund of $2 million in publicly-funded loans and $1 million Duke-backed grants, according to a copy of the contract between the city, Duke University and the group obtained by the 9th Street Journal. 

The contract said the group “shall provide monthly reports” to Durham and Duke that included the amount of money paid to individual businesses and the business’s names, along with aggregate data about the owner’s gender, race and ethnicity. 

Durham has gotten aggregate data, but not the business names and the amount they received, according to Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell. Both Durham and the group were aware of the requirement, according to Chadwell, but haven’t exactly been in a rush to comply.  

The information will be available to the public “within the next two weeks,” Chadwell said in an email to the 9th Street Journal. But his promise is would have the information being public more than six weeks after Durham’s self-congratulatory press-release, and well past the requirement in the contract. 

“Generally, if a valid contract requires a party to do something and that party fails to do that thing in the set timeframe, they have violated the contract,” Charlotte-based First Amendment attorney Beth Soja said. 


There’s no apparent reason for the delay, Soja said. There weren’t any exemptions in the contract that would preclude the group from handing over the information to Durham. 

There also doesn’t appear to be anything in the contract that specifies what would happen in the event of the contract being violated. 

Carolina Small Business Development Fund President and CEO Kevin Dick declined to comment for this story, saying Durham would respond “in order to represent the entire effort.” 

The group was slated to give out cash over multiple months, with a first wave of loans and grants announced July 21 and a second round to follow. 

So far, the group has approved eight businesses for Durham-backed loans for a total of $259,000, with $1.6 million in loans remaining, according to Brian Smith, the city’s senior economic development coordinator. That’s more than $32,000 per loan. 

Little is known about those businesses, except that they range from sectors like the  “personal care services” industry to beverage manufacturing to an alcoholic “drinking place.” The group has also given out about $849,000 in Duke-backed grants to 115 Durham businesses, or an average of about $7,400. Most of those businesses are retail, accommodation and food services, arts/entertainment/recreation, professional services and “other services.”

Durham officials boast of giving aid to small businesses, but don’t know where the money went

Three weeks ago, city and county officials boasted in a press release that they doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans and grants to dozens of small businesses. 

But which ones actually got the cash? Twenty-plus days later, not even Mayor Steve Schewel seems to know. Schewel and other city officials claim they don’t know the recipients because the selection was done by a private group.

This much is known: 115 businesses have been approved for a combined $224,000 in Durham loans and about $800,000 in grants from Duke via the Durham Small Business Recovery Fund. The fund is made up of $1 million from Duke and about $2 million from Durham public funds. 

But city officials admit they are in the dark about which businesses got the money. Raleigh-based small business lending nonprofit Carolina Small Business Development Fund (CSBDF), which administered the program, didn’t give Durham a list of businesses that got the cash, according to Andre Pettigrew, director of the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. 

Mayor Steve Schewel – Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

Pettigrew said the program is now in the midst of another round of funding (with about $1.6 million in Durham loans and more than $200,000 in grants remaining) and the group isn’t planning on giving city and county officials a full list of businesses receiving the funds until this second and final round is complete. The only information city officials have received was aggregate demographic data of the business owners and the industries the recipients are in, Pettigrew said.

The 9th Street Journal filed a public records request for a list of the recipients, but the city referred it to the Small Business Development Fund and its president and CEO, Kevin Dick, who would not release the list. He said the group is consulting its attorneys about confidentiality issues for applicants that could arise from releasing business names because the group is a non-profit, not a government entity. 

Without a copy of a contract between Durham and the group, it’s hard to know whether a non-profit is answerable to public records laws, Raleigh-based First Amendment attorney Amanda Martin told the 9th Street Journal. Pettigrew did not respond to a request for a contract in time for publication, nearly two weeks after first being asked. Government contracts are public record, according to the North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 143 Article 3

Schewel said that when he received the aggregated data on the grants and loans given out, he didn’t think it was crucial to know the names of the businesses at the time. He says he’s now looking forward to the list. 

“This is public money and it should be public information,” Schewel said about the loans. 

He later clarified by saying that while he didn’t believe the grants were actually public money, “it is a City Contract and should be public.”

Still, the group has been given sweeping powers to award the money. It green-lit eight of 29 applicants for Durham loans, for an average of about $28,000 per business. Among the approved businesses include two in the “personal care services” industry, one eatery, one beverage manufacturing company, one building equipment contractor, one alcoholic “drinking place,” a “jewelry/luggage/leather goods” store and an outpatient care center. 

The program also approved 107 out of 196 grant applications for a total of about $800,000. Most of the grant applications accepted were in retail, accommodation and food services, arts/entertainment/recreation, professional services and “other services.”

Durham ultimately granted the group power to disperse the grants and loans because of a lack of bandwidth in the city government to do so and because of the group’s “expertise.” 

“This is what they do, they make loans and administer programs like this for small businesses, and are especially focused on minority-owned businesses,” Schewel said. “They have the expertise and it’s not what the city does. So much of what we do in the city is contracting out to those with expertise.” 

Schewel emphasized that neither he nor the rest of the City Council had seen a list of the individual loans. Schewel and the City Council had expected to get a list with the final report in “the next month or so.”

How Steve Schewel put muscle into Durham’s “weak mayor” system

On March 13, the nation was just beginning to realize the danger and rapid spread of the coronavirus, but “Les Misérables” was still scheduled to play that night at the Durham Performing Arts Center. That made Mayor Steve Schewel uneasy. 

In New York, Broadway was shut down. The World Health Organization had just declared COVID-19 a pandemic. And Schewel had just learned of Durham’s first COVID-19 case. 

The show couldn’t go on in Durham, he thought. 

So Schewel called DPAC’s leaders and asked about their plan. They said the 2,712-seat venue couldn’t close without a government order, which would allow it to get out of contracts without paying damages, according to Schewel. He called people in Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, but they weren’t ready to make that call.

Schewel was. 

DPAC leaders wanted to stay open for a couple more shows, Schewel said. But he felt they had to shut down.

Without consulting the City Council, Schewel declared a state of emergency that banned large gatherings effective at 5 p.m. that day, effectively turning off the lights at DPAC. 

“That was the big moment where it all became clear where my role had to change,” Schewel said last week. 

In ordinary times, Durham’s mayor has more ceremonial than actual power. The mayor runs council meetings and makes committee appointments, but in many ways, the city manager actually wields more power.

Yet Schewel’s declaration of emergency, which is allowed under the city’s Code of Ordinances, gave him powers that put muscle into Durham’s “weak mayor” system. Using that authority, plus a keen understanding of county and state politics and a mastery of the media (he is the former publisher of Indy Week), Schewel has taken a firm grip on Durham’s COVID-19 response, issuing an aggressive stay-at-home order and mandating masks before any other North Carolina locality.

“He’s been out front. He’s in the news,” said Robert Korstad, a professor in Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy who has studied the history of Durham. “I live in Chapel Hill and I barely know who the mayor is. That’s not true in Durham.”

Unmasking Schewel’s face-covering, other COVID-19 policies 

Schewel’s newfound muscle can be seen in his bold actions to mandate mask-wearing in public. 

After issuing a stay-at-home order for the city March 25, Schewel worked with the county to update the order, the second time requiring Durham residents to wear masks in places such as grocery stores when it’s not possible to have a social distance. 

Working with Wendy Jacobs, chair of the County Board of Commissioners, Schewel’s mask mandate came more than two months before the governor issued a statewide order. Even Mecklenberg County, home to the state’s virus epicenter, Charlotte, waited for the state to require mask-wearing. 

In a reversal from its previous position, the Centers for Disease Control had recommended Americans wear masks in early April, but few jurisdictions required face coverings when Schewel enacted his requirement. 

Since April, the evidence has mounted in that mask mandates make a significant impact in slowing the virus’ spread. A June 1 analysis of 172 studies found face mask use could cause a major reduction in the risk of infection. Most Durhamites wear masks and socially distance properly, Schewel said. 

“I think that was a good call. Everyone’s doing it, even the vice president of the United States,” Schewel said (before Trump wore a mask in public for the first time last week). 

Schewel has filled a leadership vacuum not just locally but also at the national level, City Council Member Mark-Anthony Middleton said. 

“We’re seeing the numbers now go in the wrong direction in many states around the country because of a dearth of national leadership, so many state and local leaders have been left to fend for ourselves in many cases,” Middleton said. “It has placed leaders like Steve Schewel front and center to save our own lives at the municipal level.”

To be fair, Schewel hasn’t done all of this on his own. He has worked closely with Jacobs and has often consulted the City Council and health experts, City Council Member Charlie Reece said. Earlier in the pandemic, Reece said Schewel would talk with him and other Council members every few days. Middleton said Schewel kept the Council well-informed on his decisions with regards to his emergency powers. 

Still, Schewel has been the face of the city.

“Mayor Schewel has also been especially good at making difficult decisions in a clear and direct manner,” Reece said. “He has done a great job with the impossible task of weighing the various needs and interests of all the people of our city, and of charting a course through the COVID-19 pandemic that offers our community the best chance of emerging on the other side of this unprecedented public health crisis in the best possible shape.”

How Schewel got Durham on board with his COVID mandates

Schewel, a public policy professor at Duke, has been very strategic in explaining his bold policies.

When he announced the mask mandate, he got videos from Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke football coach David Cutcliffe and North Carolina Central University men’s basketball coach LeVelle Moton that showed them wearing masks and encouraging others to do the same. He knew the coaches were popular role models in the Bull City.

“If this is going to work, voluntary compliance is what’s going to make it work,” Schewel said. “We need to explain to people why it’s important, for them to believe it, and then for them to do it.”

With his messaging on masks, Schewel struck a good balance between personal freedom and people’s responsibility to protect each other, Middleton said. 

“We didn’t turn Durham into a police state making sure people were indoors or social distancing,” Middleton said. “He appealed to our sense of community not just for ourselves but to each other and for one another. We didn’t have to do it with the force of fine or imprisonment and people just complied.”

His actions haven’t been universally popular. Schewel recently got an unsigned letter at his home written in purple marker calling him a “sanctimonious little dictator.” 

“They hurt my feelings when they said I was little!” Schewel quipped. 

Schewel’s stay-at-home order also caught the attention of Liz Wheeler, a host on the conservative One America News Network. 

“Now, the lockdown is indefinite. This happens if you give politicians power. They abuse it,” Wheeler tweeted

Schewel says he hears a lot of opinions from across the spectrum. 

“There has been lots of criticism,” Schewel said. “But also I feel a lot of support. Most people in Durham understand the importance of social distancing, face coverings and the actions we’ve taken when we needed to shut down businesses in Durham.”

Middleton is among his supporters. 

“We were fortunate to have a leader whose temperament was led by science and compassion to be making decisions during this time,” Middleton said. “I give him very high marks in what was an impossible situation, where there’s no pamphlet or textbook on how to handle these things.”

Lessons of history

The few modern mayors that have brought strength to Durham’s mayor system have shared several key traits, according to Korstad, the Duke professor who has studied the city’s history. 

One of those traits is charisma and strong networks, shared by Schewel and three others. 

The first was Emanuel Evans, a Democrat who served from 1951 to 1963. The first Jewish mayor of Durham, Evans was able to bring together Black and white labor unions and the white business elite towards desegregation, unlike many other Southern mayors, Korstad said. 

His successor, Wense Grabarek, who served from 1963 to 1971, also used his strong personality and community ties in support of the Civil Rights movement, Korstad said.

After Grabarek left office, Durham didn’t see a mayor last in office more than four years until Schewel’s predecessor, Bill Bell, took office in 2001. He brought deep ties to Durham after serving on the school board and had been Chair of the Board of County Commissioners. Bell had more of a political presence than his predecessors, Korstad said, allowing him to strength ties with Duke, build coalitions and tackle issues like poverty and inequality. 

Schewel follows in the mold of a “strong” Durham mayor in part due to his charisma and deep ties in Durham, but has also brought policy chops to the table. 

A faculty member at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and formerly a faculty member at North Carolina Central University, Schewel brings a deeper level of engagement to policy issues than even Bell, Korstad said, and could handle the city manager role easily.

The Duke alumnus also has another advantage that Bell didn’t always have: a supportive City Council and a strong ally in Jacobs, Korstad said. 

“He’s got a lot of capital. Folks know that he’s invested,” Middleton said. “Even if you disagree with him on policy, there’s no question as to his love for the city. When you’ve built up that reservoir of capital, it’s time like these you can draw on it.”

At top, photo of Steve Schewel by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

A tale of two cities: Lessons for Durham about ShotSpotter

A gunshot goes off.  

In many neighborhoods, no one calls the police. 

But in more than 100 cities, the sound is picked up by audio sensors, and computers quickly triangulate the location of the sound. 

Meanwhile, in a room in California, audio experts sit behind several large monitors that are filled with red and green maps. They monitor the alerts from the sensors and, if they determine the sound was indeed gunfire, they quickly alert the local police. 

The whole process takes approximately 60 seconds, according to ShotSpotter, the company that sells the technology. That enables officers to respond quickly and – city officials hope – reduce the likelihood of injuries and further shootings.

In June, the Durham City Council voted down a measure to implement ShotSpotter, citing insufficient data about the service and other budgetary priorities. But after a spate of recent shootings, Council Member Mark Anthony Middleton is urging them to reconsider.

“Kids in Durham are being trained to jump in the bathtub when they hear gunfire,” he said. “They’re getting soldiering skills at eight or nine years old.” 

As Durham deliberates, Middleton and others can learn from the experiences of two North Carolina cities with very different experiences with ShotSpotter. In Charlotte, officials decided ShotSpotter wasn’t worth the money. But, in Wilmington, officials like the system so much they want to expand it.

Charlotte: “Closed circuit cameras and license plate readers are actually more effective”

In 2012, Charlotte had high hopes for ShotSpotter.

The city was about to host the Democratic National Convention and wanted to be prepared for potential gun violence.

Patrick Cannon, then the mayor pro tem, told the City Council that ShotSpotter was a smart investment.

“I know we don’t like talking about guns … but having a system for the long-term is something I believe is really important to this community,” he said.  

At the time, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department bought a contract covering two square miles in the center of downtown, only a fraction of the department’s 473-square mile jurisdiction. Cannon said the technology might make the city safer because of its ability to alert police officers in real-time.

But ShotSpotter didn’t live up to its promise. In 2016, the City decided to abandon its $160,000 contract with ShotSpotter. 

Police said ShotSpotter often didn’t result in arrests. Another problem: false alarms, which strained police time and resources.

Crystal Cody, Charlotte’s Public Safety Technology Director, said that ShotSpotter solved a problem that Charlotte didn’t have.

“The premise of the technology is to be alerted to gunfire in the absence of someone calling 911,” she said. “But, in our city, we’ve found that primarily citizens call 911. We are already on route to it, just about as soon as we get the information from ShotSpotter.” 

ShotSpotter wasn’t worth the investment, said Cody. The city canceled the contract.

“We have found that closed circuit cameras and license plate readers are actually more effective,” said Cody.

Wilmington: “You’ve got to start using 21st century technologies to address crime now”

Wilmington has had a much better experience. After using ShotSpotter for nearly nine years, the city recently signed a contract to expand services with the company. 

In Wilmington, ShotSpotter covers a six-mile radius. Officials used data to determine neighborhoods that had high incidents of gun violence, which decided the locations of the sensors. 

Deputy Police Chief Alejandra Sotelo said she’s pleased with the technology because it speeds up the process of dispatching police officers. 

When people call the police, it slows the process. A ShotSpotter alert can often be faster than a 911 call, which needs to go through a dispatcher  Even a one- or two-minute delay can mean life or death for victims of violent crime, Sotelo said. 

It’s so good, Sotelo said, that some people might trust the system a little too much.

 “One of the things we have noticed since we’ve implemented this technology is that people often don’t call 911, which is concerning. They think ShotSpotter will just pick it up,” she said.

Wilmington has seen a reduction in crime in the last few years. “Our overall violent crime numbers have gone down, and this year we’re proud of a record low,” said Sotelo. She thinks this might be correlated with the implementation of ShotSpotter. 

Sotelo said ShotSpotter doesn’t need to generate arrests in order to be effective. 

“We use it as a tool to get to the scene and gather evidence quicker. You still have to go through the investigative process” to make arrests, Sotelo said.

The Wilmington Police Department liked ShotSpotter so much the city has expanded its use. As of this month, it was the first in the nation to complete training for the ShotSpotter Missions tool, a data analytics program that forecasts crime and preemptively dispatches police.

“You’ve got to start using 21st century technologies to address crime now,“ she said.

Sotelo said she would like to see a system of cameras integrated with ShotSpotter. Video footage would help identify victims and suspects, something the current tool does not do. 

As for Durham, Sotelo recommends the city do its research. “I could tell you how great it is, and I do think it’s a great, but make sure you go to other cities. Come to Wilmington, see how it works and what officers think about it.”

Above, a screenshot of a ShotSpotter display. Photo from ShotSpotter

Durham accepts $1 million to clear sexual assault kit backlog

On Nov. 4, the Durham Police Department secured $1 million from the federal government to help clear the city’s sexual assault kit backlog.

In a unanimous vote, the City Council approved the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant. Since 2015, SAKI grants have been used to fund overburdened crime labs, test over 47,000 sexual assault kits across 35 states, and even help catch one of the deadliest serial killers in U.S. history.

Now, the Durham Police Department will use the grant to tackle its backlog of 1,711 sexual assault kits — the most of any jurisdiction across North Carolina.

***

In 2017, the North Carolina State Crime Lab began counting all untested sexual assault kits across the state, joining 36 other states that had audited their inventories. It discovered the largest backlog of any state in the country: 15,160 untested kits.

Nowhere in North Carolina was the problem larger than in Durham, where police found 1,711 kits from assaults dating back as far as 1988.

“It came as a shock that Durham had so many,” said Charlene Reiss, the Sexual Assault Response Team coordinator at the Durham Crisis Response Center.

The State Crime Lab noted that some of those untested kits may have been resolved in court or marked as “unfounded,” which means that police believed a crime didn’t occur. The rest of the kits — those that were never given a reason for remaining on the shelf — are marked as “other”.

Not only did Durham police find the largest backlog of untested kits, but they also harbored one of the largest portions of “other” kits — those that remained untested for no given reason.

Why, especially in a city as progressive as Durham, did sexual assault kits pile up?

Some factors were outside their control, police wrote in the 2018 SAKI grant application. The State Crime Lab changed their policies about which sexual assault kits were eligible to be tested, causing confusion among officers. And some of the kits in Durham police’s possession were connected to cases already resolved in court.

But police also found that some investigators didn’t know a sexual assault kit could be submitted. Other officers “overlooked sending it,” according to the grant application.

Those familiar with the backlog hesitate to blame police. “There are definitely things that fell through the cracks,” Reiss said. “But for many years, the State Crime Lab was so backed up that it took years to get results back.”

That’s when the State Crime Lab asked police jurisdictions to stop sending consent cases, or cases where both parties admit that sex did occur, according to Reiss.

“Testing that kit wouldn’t help in that particular case,” Reiss said. “In those situations, it doesn’t come down to proving whether or not sex happened; it comes down to proving consent. So a lot of things on the shelf in Durham were consent cases, and they were told not to send those.”

Now, as part of the effort to clear North Carolina’s backlog, the lab is asking police to send all their untested kits. Durham, with the support of its SAKI grant, is beginning to do that.

***

Durham police, prosecutors, and victim advocates agree that to tackle a backlog this large, they need help.

“Our office is already understaffed,” said Kendra Montgomery-Blinn, an Assistant District Attorney. “Right now, the older cases that are coming through — we’re just adding them on top of our duties. It’s too much.”

Each sexual assault kit costs about $700 to test, according to the North Carolina Attorney General’s office. With Durham’s 1,711 kits, that puts the cost of testing the backlog at nearly $1.2 million.

But that estimate doesn’t include the cost of the investigative work that often happens after testing.

“With such a large backlog … the DPD does not have the resources to investigate these backlogged cases and also focus on current cases,” the SAKI grant application says.

That’s why Durham police are using the grant to create a new investigative team: the Cold Case Unit.

The Cold Case Unit will have two full-time investigators dedicated to reopening sexual assault cases and a bilingual witness assistant to support victims through the justice system.

SAKI grant money is also going to the Durham Crisis Response Center, which will fund a new advocate to assist with calling victims. The District Attorney’s office will also hire a full-time prosecutor to bring cold case sexual assaults to trial.

District Attorney Satana Deberry is ready to reprioritize sexual assault in her office.

“Part of the reason that sexual assault is underreported is because people don’t feel comfortable coming to the justice system,” Deberry said. “It’s important for us to signal to the community that we take these things seriously.”

“We spend a lot of time talking about the violence in our community, but often we don’t talk about the violence against women and children,” she added.

The District Attorney’s office is now prosecuting three cold cases in which sexual assault kits were tested after years of sitting in the backlog. With the new hires from the SAKI grant, they expect more charges to come and a new energy behind the process.

“I think everybody in Durham was surprised when they did the inventory,” Reiss said. “But things have changed.”

Deberry agreed. “Now we’re cleaning up what this system may have let sit for a while.”

Gunn concedes, says he ‘stood tall’ against ‘political machine’

Joshua Gunn conceded Wednesday, clearing the way for three incumbents to return to the City Council. Although there had been questions about a possible recount because he trailed Javiera Caballero by just 395 votes, Gunn wrote a Facebook post congratulating her and fellow incumbents Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson.  

Let’s be clear, while we may not have gained a seat on City Council, this is a victory,” he wrote. “It was 3 against 1. Three incumbents in a bloc, versus one candidate. What we overcame is incredible. Faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, we stood tall against the largest political machine in Durham, and without the support of many of Durham’s most influential political figures, and we came within 395 votes of winning a seat on Durham City Council!”

Gunn lost to Caballero by just 395 votes.

 

The reelection of Johnson, Reece, and Caballero won’t be certified until the Durham County Board of Elections meets next week. 

Jillian Johnson: Sustainability, affordability, public engagement

At yet another Durham City Council candidate forum, three very vocal challengers were questioning the competency of three incumbent City Council members.

Among the targets was Jillian Johnson, Durham’s mayor pro tem and council member since 2015.

The challenger candidates, often joined by supporters in the audience, huffed skeptically when Johnson  dug into policy and community engagement plans like her “Beyond Policing” conflict resolution solution to gun violence in Durham. 

Johnson remained calm, unemotional and confident. “I have tried very hard to focus on the issues and to not publicly criticize other candidates positions during the campaign. We just have different policies,” she said after the October forum. 

Johnson is running for re-election for an at-large City Council seat. A big theme of her campaign is collaborative leadership, a commitment made concrete by her joint “Bull City Together” platform with fellow incumbents Charlie Reece and Javiera Caballero.

Johnson moved from Virginia to Durham in 1999, an 18-year-old Duke University freshman drawn to public policy and community activism. Four years later, she stayed, eager to put her newly earned degree to work for the city. 

“Durham just felt like home. It felt like a place where I could do the kind of work I wanted to do, have the kind of community I was looking for, and have my kids in a diverse and fun city,” she said.

Jillian Johnson has refrained from criticizing other candidates during her City Council re-election campaign. That held during a Inter-Neighborhood Council candidate forum at city hall last month. Photo by Cameron Beach

Though cool and often reserved in the council chambers, the one-term councilwoman has sparked controversy with her unashamed, leftist takes on gun violence and policing. 

In 2016, she posted on Facebook that “the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers.” In an interview with The News & Observer after that, she was quoted saying she believes that “the no-fly list and FBI anti-terror efforts are seriously corrupted by entrapment, racial profiling, and Islamophobia.”

Critics called for an apology; some wanted her to resign. But Johnson carried on.

Johnson’s 20-year history in Durham is deeply rooted in activism and the nonprofit sector. She co-founded Durham for All, a grassroots organization that works to mobilize people of all races and socio-economic status to support progressive candidates and causes.

She is the former director of operations and a current board member for the nonprofit, Southern Visions Alliance. The group supports teenagers and young adults working on social justice issues in the South. 

While on the City Council, Johnson was a primary proponent of the raise in minimum wage for part-time Durham workers in 2018. She’s also the council representative for the Durham Housing Authority, Participatory Budgeting Steering Committee, and the Race/Equity Task Force. 

The Bull City Together platform points that are most important to Johnson are promoting public safety and community facilitated conflict resolution, increasing eco-friendly infrastructure, and increasing affordable housing opportunities for residents, she said.

During a council budget working session in June, Johnson was one of four council members who rejected Police Chief C.J. Davis’ request for funding for additional police officers. The money was better spent on wages, they concluded.

Three challengers vying for council seats criticize that move. Although violent crime dropped in Durham in recent years, the city is seeing a spike in gun violence this year. That unwelcome shift was made especially stark this week, when several shootings, including drive by assaults, killed two people and injured eight. A 17-year-old was among the murdered.

At an Oct. 17 council candidate forum, Johnson said intervention and prevention are the keys to reducing violent crime in Durham’s inner city. “Unfortunately, in North Carolina we can’t stop people from carrying their guns around, but given that, it’s very important for people to learn how to deal with conflict in a healthy way,” Johnson said. 

Intervention means engaging people at risk of committing gun violence on a peer-to-peer level, Johnson said. She likes gang-intervention programs like Project BUILD and Bull City United, which hires community members to try to diffuse conflicts before violence can occur. 

Prevention consists of implementing conflict resolution training,  providing workshops on bystander training and de-escalating anger tactics, Johnson said. She hopes to expand on Durham Local Reentry Council’s effort to support and help re-integrate people recently released from jail or prison.

In her campaign, Johnson also emphasizes expanding renewable energy use in Durham. A renewable energy resolution the council passed on March 25 commits Durham to switching to 80% renewable energy sources in all city operations by 2030 and to 100% renewables by 2050. 

The city recently invested in a couple of electric buses, some hybrid police cars, and solar panels on Durham Fire Station 17, Johnson said. And it will use energy efficiency infrastructure in the affordable housing council members hope to build.

“Everyone who believes in science and cares about the future is concerned about climate change,” Johnson said. 

Investing in sustainability and renewable energy infrastructure in Durham is not just an environmental issue, it’s an environmental justice issue, Johnson said. 

“We have a history of not having the same level of environmental amenities in places like east Durham,” she said, referring to the now gentrifying part of the city that for years was home to many low-income households.

Johnson’s “Housing First” philosophy depends upon passage of the $95 million Housing Bond, also on the ballot next week. “We have a $160 million five-year plan and the $95 million closes the funding gap between the money that the city gets from state and federal resources,” she said. 

The money would help the city provide housing for over 15,000 Durham residents, primarily in permanently affordable units, supporters say. In partnership with the Durham Housing Authority, the council would use the money to build more multi-family rental housing like the Willard Street apartment project, which includes 80 units of permanently affordable housing for people at or below 60% of the area’s median income, Johnson said.

City Council candidate Jackie Wagstaff has been skeptical that the City Council will create permanent affordable housing. But Housing Authority housing is by its nature permanently affordable, Johnson noted.

The city needs private developers to help expand affordable housing too, even though the units would likely remain affordable for a limited time: 15 to 20 years, Johnson said. “People need housing now, and so we might build housing with a 15 or 20 year affordability period knowing we’re not getting the permanent affordability that we really want because the trade off is we can get people into housing now,” she said. 

Johnson, Caballero, and Reece’s joint platform has not been embraced by all. Challengers accuse the incumbents of being interchangeable. Where others see weakness, Johnson sees strength.

“You can’t do anything on council on your own. I think the idea that this sort of collaboration is anti-democratic is misguided. We have to work together, we have to collaborate, we have to have a shared vision, and shared policies in order to make anything happen in the city,” she said.

At top: Jillian Johnson sits outside the Durham Co-op Market on West , the city’s food coop on West Chapel Hill Street. Photo by Cameron Beach

Durham police chief brings hope back to department, though change is taking time

When Durham Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis stood before the City Council for the first time in May 2016, she introduced her plan to revamp a police department in turmoil.

Davis vowed to address the “alarming increase in violent crime” that rattled the city in 2015 and 2016, and she promised to immediately begin rebuilding strong relationships with community and business leaders.

Thirty months later, Davis has delivered on most of her promises, particularly on limiting violent crime. She has also appointed liaison officers and cooperated with Durham’s Misdemeanor Diversion Program, which helps decriminalize first-time minor drug offenses, but racial disparities in traffic stops and searches are still concerning for minority groups in Durham.

Making Durham safer

Davis took charge of a department on its heels when she began her job on June 6, 2016 after serving as a deputy chief in the Atlanta Police Department.

There were 37 homicides in Durham in 2015 under “won’t-be-missed Jose Lopez,” as longtime former News & Observer columnist Barry Saunders labeled the former chief. Lopez was forced to resign at the end of that year, but homicides kept increasing to 42 in 2016, the most since at least 1980.

That trend immediately stopped in Davis’ first full year as police chief, as homicides were cut in half to 21. Overall violent crime remained relatively flat in 2017, but it was down 17 percent through three quarters in 2018.

“I give her a huge amount of credit, and not only is violent crime down 17 percent, but crime with a gun is down 26 percent,” Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said. “We are in a very sweet spot right now. We are reducing violent crime at the same time as we’re increasing the trust within the community.”

Council member Charlie Reece noted that the drop in violent crime is particularly impressive in a city with a rising population like Durham. But the population growth could also work in Durham’s favor — many newcomers are wealthier than previous residents and are gentrifying downtown apartment complexes and condos.

Some of the violent crime seems to have moved to poorer surrounding areas, where crime rates have grown in the last two years, though Davis insisted her department deserves credit for catching and imprisoning repeat offenders.

“It didn’t just happen. We moved some staff around, more visible, paying really close attention to hot-spot areas and being laser-focused at individuals committing violent crime and catching up with them,” Davis said after her third-quarter crime report at a City Council meeting last month. “That’s what it really takes is for us to look at the few people that are committing the most violent crimes.”

More lenient, but far from perfect

Questions about racial profiling linger. A March 2016 report by the independent research firm RTI International found that the odds of a male driver stopped by police being black were 20 percent higher during the day — when officers can more easily determine drivers’ races — than at night in Durham between 2010 and 2015. The report did not find similar disproportionate treatment of black drivers in Raleigh, Greensboro or Fayetteville.

The RTI report confirmed what community leaders in Durham had long suspected, providing data to support concerns of racial profiling. A month after it went public, the Durham Police Department took its first major step in repairing its image by hiring its first-ever African-American woman chief.

“Anecdotally, the people with whom I’ve spoken, they feel that it’s easier to ride around now without getting hassled by the cops, because I think that’s pretty much what led Lopez to being ousted,” Saunders said in an interview with The 9th Street Journal. “At least I think people are optimistic now, which I don’t think they ever were under Lopez.”

Davis appears to have addressed the outcry over racial profiling on the roads by deemphasizing traffic stops altogether. Durham police conducted 44.2 percent fewer stops in 2017 than in 2015, representing a sharp drop from 20,780 to 11,587 in just two years.

“It’s just about shifting the culture for all of us to be involved in community engagement,” Davis said. “If it’s just introducing yourself, if it’s just giving a person an opportunity to speed one time and just get a warning, it works. It helps people to think twice the next time they’re lead-footed.”

Fewer stops doesn’t mean racial profiling has been solved, though. In 2017, 58 percent of drivers stopped were black, more than their 41 percent share of Durham’s population. Once drivers have been stopped, they are also far more likely to be searched if they are black — 79.9 percent of searches in 2017 were conducted on black drivers.

“I didn’t expect her to come in and work miracles in that regard. I think most people are willing to give her time because they realize it wasn’t just about one bad officer. Durham has some of the greatest police officers I’ve ever met, and they’ve also got some assholes too,” Saunders said. “Institutional change isn’t going to occur just because you change the leadership. She’s got to get her opinion and her thoughts to the rank-and-file officers.”

Schewel said Davis has appointed community liaison officers for veterans, Hispanic people, the LGBTQ community and low-income areas in Northeast Central Durham. Those officers have built better relationships with people who were previously wary of the police. He also commended her for doing away with random traffic checkpoints last year, which often got undocumented drivers tangled up in the immigration system.

Schewel praised Davis most for improving relationships with African-Americans in Durham with her changes in drug enforcement. He noted that drug arrests were cut in half last year from 1,200 to 600, with marijuana possession accounting for most of that reduction.

“Instead of arresting people, they’re referred to the misdemeanor diversion court where they’re given community service or treatment or whatever it is that they need,” Schewel said. “They don’t get a criminal record, which is really important, especially for a young person starting a career.”

(Top photo by Katie Nelson)

In the midnight hour: The nocturnal email habits of Durham’s mayor

Mayor Steve Schewel has a werewolfish habit of staying up late into the night answering emails.

While most of the city is asleep, he sends messages on subjects ranging from “Downtown Post Office Parking” to “Demilitarize Durham.”

In fact, Schewel sends more emails between 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. than any other time of day, according to an analysis by The 9th Street Journal.

We looked at more than 4,000 emails sent by Schewel since he was elected mayor in November last year and obtained by The 9th Street Journal through a public records request. Among the findings:

  • Around dinner time — between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. — he writes fewer emails.
  • He sends more than 40 percent of his emails between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m.
  • His email production peaks around midnight and tapers off around 1:30 a.m.
  • He does apparently sleep. We found that he sent almost no emails between 2:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.

By day, he attends city meetings, reads materials prepared for the City Council, and presides over ribbon-cutting ceremonies, leaving little time to respond to emails.

At night, he becomes a ferocious emailer. He says he stays up late because he needs to respond to his constituents. “People have really important problems, even if some of them are small problems. It might be a pothole … or an issue about rezoning or affordable housing,” he says. “It’s important to them, and I’ve got to respond. I think that’s part of the job.”

Data analysis by Asa Royal

His nighttime routine begins when he returns to his West Club Boulevard bungalow, kisses his wife Lao, and trades his jacket and tie for a cozy cardigan.

After dinner, he situates himself in front of the television or a book until his eyelids begin to feel heavy. “I read with my eyes shut,” Schewel jokes, explaining that he may nap until 11 p.m. or so.

Some nights he’ll wake up and go to bed. But oftentimes, he climbs the u-shaped staircase to his home office, opens his black laptop and starts sifting through his inbox.

The wood-paneled room is crowded with overflowing bookcases and a large upholstered chair. Schewel’s desk overlooks the backyard, but at night the view is obscured by the artificial light from inside.

“In the daytime, it’s a fabulous room,” he says.

Schewel averages between two and three late-night email binges each week. More than 37 percent of the days, he’ll send at least one email after midnight.

The subject lines of the emails he responds to are a Durham zeitgeist: a mix of invitations, city news, and complaints about urban problems, such as “Ms. Morris 3rd Grade Class Presenting at City Council Meeting,” “Six People Arrested in Prostitution Operation,” and “plant odors getting worse but no action from city to stop them.”You can also spot trends from a flurry of emails on the same topic:  “Loud music in downtown Durham,” “Loud music from DBAP, late at night, two nights in a row,” “too loud!” “Outdoor concert noise,” and “loud noise from music festival on Friday and Saturday Sept 28-29.”

Thomas Bonfield, Durham’s city manager, says it’s normal for him to wake up to several emails that Schewel sent at 1 or 2 a.m. Bonfield says, “He’s so conscientious and there are so many people who are wanting a piece of him … and I think he’s trying to be responsive to all of them.”