Durham officials troubled by apparent targeting of police officers
Posted December 30, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Police and Durham officials said Tuesday that they are disturbed by two shootings within four days in which police officers appeared to have been targeted by gunmen.
Last Thursday night, Officer J.T. West was sitting in his patrol car on Lakeland Street when two men approached his vehicle from behind. As West got out of his car, one of the men pulled out a gun and fired six shots at West, who dove for cover. West wasn't wounded in the incident and managed to return fire as the two men fled, police said.
On Monday afternoon, someone fired a shot at the apartment of an off-duty officer. The officer wasn't wounded, but a sliding glass door to his dining room was shattered. The unidentified officer said he saw a man running into some nearby woods after the shooting.
The shootings come in the wake of the Dec. 20 deaths of two New York City police officers by a gunman who allegedly wanted retaliation for the deaths of black men at the hands of white police. The suspected gunman later committed suicide.
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez called the Christmas night attack on West "an attempted assassination," echoing New York officials' characterization of the deaths of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu as assassinations.
Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith said police can't say for certain that the Durham officers were targeted, but he called the shootings "an attack on our very beliefs."
"There is clearly an anti-police sentiment on some level in our culture right now," Smith said. "We’re dealing with that, and it concerns us."
Durham City Councilman Eugene Brown said he also was troubled by the two local incidents.
"This is a trend we cannot and must not accept," Brown said. "The police are there for a reason, and that's to protect the public. For a sentiment like this to overtake the good work that the vast majority of them do as police officers is alarming."
Mayor Bill Bell said he hopes the shootings are coincidental, but he noted they follow recent protests in Durham over deaths in Missouri and New York in which the police officers involved weren't charged.
"We don’t know the reasons behind it. We hope it isn’t related to the protests that have been going on," Bell said. "We value the police department in our community. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it."
The Durham Police Department has told its officers to trust their instincts and remain vigilant, Smith said, noting the department hasn't changed any policies or procedures.
He said the department has received numerous letter of support from the public.
"Many officers talk about people coming up and thanking them for what they do. That matters," he said. "That matters to us; it matters to the officer on the street."
Brown said such support is needed to swing the pendulum of public sentiment back in favor of officers.
"They need public support in order to do the job they were hired to do, which is an exceedingly difficult one," he said. "It’s time for the public to rise up and say enough is enough."