Durham homicide rate high
City leads state in a deadly way
Michael Biesecker, Staff Writer
For the second straight year, Durham led North Carolina's large cities with the highest homicide rate.
Killings in the Bull City in 2005 jumped nearly 28 percent over 2004, a year that Durham also held the grim distinction as the state's most dangerous municipality.
"It's not a record that we're proud to have," Durham Mayor Bill Bell said when told of the figures. "We aren't unique in Durham in that crime is an issue, but when you stand out when compared with others, that's going to get negative attention."
The official year-end crime statistics for North Carolina, compiled by the State Bureau of Investigation, are not yet available. But The News & Observer contacted local law enforcement agencies across the state to get the homicide totals and calculate the homicide rates.
The Durham Police Department investigated 37 homicides in 2005 and will report that figure to the SBI. Two of those killings were later ruled as justifiable uses of deadly force.
A 38th victim, Albert Earl Barnes, was found Aug. 23 on Kentington Drive, about 50 yards outside the city limits. Subsequent investigation by the Durham County Sheriff's Office indicated that Barnes was killed in downtown Durham and that the body was later dumped in the county. But even without Barnes added to the total, the city's homicide rate is still the worst.
Only metro Charlotte, with more than three times the population as Durham, reported more homicides, with 84. When the incidence of homicide is calculated per 100,000 residents, the method used by the SBI, Durham's homicide rate is 18.9. Charlotte's rate is 12.7.
Over the past year, Durham officials emphasized that many of the murders were "not random" and stressed that, overall, crime is down in Durham. As the death toll mounted, however, Bell and others began to call for new approaches to combating the problem.
Media reports during the past two months of the year recounted a spate of violent incidents -- a quadruple, execution-style slaying in a townhouse community, drive-by shootings, a teenager shot dead outside a mall and a shooting on a city bus caught by an onboard security camera.
"It got to the point where it's a good day when you don't hear about another murder," Bell said in an interview Wednesday. "When that's the case, you know you have a problem."
As part of his annual State of the City Address on Tuesday, the mayor said violent crime is the first issue facing Durham, describing the high murder rate as an "albatross." Using the police department's total of 37 homicides, Bell cited statistics that 78 percent of the city's murder victims were black, while more than 80 percent of the murder suspects identified by police were black. Blacks make up 43 percent of the city's population.
The mayor said Durham must redouble its efforts to lessen black-on-black crime and the underlying social issues that contribute to violence -- guns, drugs and the lack of economic opportunity for those with few skills and too little education.
Bell said 78 percent of Durham homicides involved firearms, many of them obtained illegally by juveniles.
The mayor said Wednesday he will be meeting with elected leaders and law-enforcement officials in the coming weeks to enact new efforts to curb the killing. A key component will be leaning on business leaders to hire ex-convicts and known gang members to give them a way out of a life of crime.
"When you open the door, you've got to provide something on the other side," Bell said. "What we hope is that these people go back to their peers and say, 'There is another way, and here's how you do it.' "