Bell: Durham's future is 'so bright we might need shades'
Posted February 19, 2015
Durham, N.C. — Police-community relations, from new rules for demonstrations to a report claiming racial bias within the Durham Police Department and local protests in response to police shootings nationwide, was one of the themes defining 2014 for the City of Durham, a subject Mayor Bill Bell touched on during his State of the City address on Thursday.
Bell, delivering his 13th address, referred to a committee meeting on “Strengthening Police-Community Relations in America’s Cities” he attended during a January conference.
Recommendations from the group included addressing racial and economic disparities, community distrust of government entities and improving police department practices.
Bell said city leaders will review the list of suggestions.
“I have repeatedly said that they probably have one of the more difficult responsibilities in our city administration in serving our city,” said Bell, referring to Durham police officers. “At the same time, we must always evaluate how those services are being delivered and work to improve those areas in which they may be deficient, while applauding and acknowledging those efforts that go beyond the normal call of duty, or in solving very difficult cases.”
Bell highlighted a number of the city’s 2014 accomplishments, including:
- The city’s unemployment rate is 4.4 percent. In comparison, the statewide unemployment rate is 5.5 percent.
- The city maintained its triple-A rating with the three major bond rating agencies: Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch.
- Durham’s population increased 28.55 percent between 2001 and 2014, but violent and property crime has decreased during that time span.
Continuing to reduce crime will take community involvement, something Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez says is key.
"We are going to the neighborhoods, identifying the individuals who are causing a lot of the disruption in the city and dealing with them," he said.
Durham was also ranked on multiple national lists, including Forbes’ America’s Smartest Cities (15), NerdWallet’s Best Cities for Young Entrepreneurs (18) and The Active Times’ America’s 25 Fittest Cities (23).
“The list goes on,” Bell said. “Accolades that show that Durham’s future is bright…so bright, in fact, that we just might need shades.”
Some of the city’s 2015 priorities include:
- Completing Phase 1 and starting Phase 2 of Southside East, a mixed-income apartment development formerly known as the “Rolling Hills” community, and completing construction of Southside West, a group of single-family homes.
- Planning Durham police's new headquarters.
- Moving forward with the Durham-Orange Light Rail project.
- Preparing the city for fiber-optic broadband internet.
Bell also updated his Reducing Poverty Initiative, which was the focus of his 2014 speech. After a kick-off session in March 2014 and reviewing results from a community survey, the initiative’s six task forces are expected to implement their plans in 2015.
“As I said last year, the road to reducing poverty is not easy, and is mostly uphill,” he said. “I have seen over the last few months that people in poverty are willing to work in partnership with the many people who are willing to assist them. It is a journey that we must continue.”