Watch: Documentary investigates how N.C. city is addressing its ongoing surge of violent crime

“Durham Under Fire,” a 25-minute special by WRAL TV, features a ridealong with officers discussing crime, including the police chief

By Anne Berleant

DURHAM, N.C. — In its latest documentary, WRAL TV showcased Durham, North Carolina's ongoing surge of violent crime as gun violence continues to soar throughout the city. The 25-minute special features a ridealong with Durham officers discussing crime, why fatal shootings continue to occur and what city leaders are doing to stop the issue.  

Over the past year, more than 1,100 shootings occurred in Durham. Compounding the issue is the department's ongoing shortage of police officers, according to the report.

“The game plan on stopping gun violence in Durham really depends on who you ask,” said Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews. 

Andrews has been chief since last November, but has taken on patrol duties due to officer shortages. Out of 537 officer positions, 111 are currently open, she said. In October 2021, the department had 70 vacancies. However, by April 2022 that number had grown to 102 and it continues to rise. 

Andrews attributes this in part to morale problems: “If officers don’t feel like they matter, aren’t part of something or aren’t seen, they will leave.” 

Meanwhile, gang-related violence is on the rise in Durham, centered on at least eight gangs and 12 neighborhoods, according to ABC11. Moreover, homicides increased 31% from 2020 to 2021. 

A strong police force and ShotSpotter technology would help the situation, city councilor Mark-Anthony Middleton said, noting that morale is “absolutely critical” in recruiting police. The Durham City Council recently budgeted for a one-year ShotSpotter pilot and residents told ABC11 that they’re willing to try anything.  

“Most of the time, by the time the cops get here it is too late,” one resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said. 

With an average of two shootings per day – including 9-year-old Zion Person who was shot and killed in 2019 while buying a snow cone – the community has grown concerned. Mayor Elaine O’Neal, who was elected in November 2021, had pledged to make gun violence a top priority. 

“Every day we’re working on the situation,” O’Neal said. This includes a 15% pay increase for the police department, a measure implemented by O’Neal's predecessor. Yet a $1.3 million expansion to the department’s gang unit in 2020 hasn’t held. The 15-member team is now down to only six officers. 

O’Neal has also created a new team of eight officers to get guns off the streets. But O’Neal can’t promise this will be a permanent team, according to the report.  

Corporal Jermaine Clark, a member of the Durham Police Department’s Gang Unit, talks about the amount of gang activity in Durham in the documentary, clarifying that “there’s not just one answer.” 

“There’s the community aspect, the police aspect, all the way up to the District Attorney’s office. We all have to get on the same page,” Clark said.

NEXT: Violence reduction project: Addressing 2020's unprecedented rise in violent crime

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