Durham taking aim at gun crimes
Posted January 13, 2012
Durham, N.C. — People who commit crimes with firearms in Durham will face swifter justice than in the past, city officials said Friday in announcing a crackdown on gun-related offenses.
"If you're caught illegally (with) a gun in Durham, you're going to be scrutinized intensely, and it's not going to be business as usual," Mayor Bill Bell said. "Likewise, for those who commit crimes with illegal guns or legal firearms, we're going to seek the highest penalties."
Violent crime in Durham increased by 3 percent in 2011, Bell said, prompting him to put together a group of community leaders, including city and county officials, law enforcement authorities, prosecutors and judges, to devise strategies to combat gun violence.
Three people have already been killed in Durham since Jan. 1.
"This is a very disturbing trend that we, as a community, should not and cannot accept," he said of the growing violence in Durham. "There are too many people in whose hands firearms are being misused to the detriment of our community."
The first initiative the group rolled out calls for imposing higher bonds on people charged with crimes involving guns, including first-time offenders, and increased coordination between the Durham Police Department, Durham County Sheriff's Office and the Durham County District Attorney's Office to ensure such crimes are handled quickly and efficiently.
Officials also plan to lobby state lawmakers for stiffer penalties for people convicted of gun-related offenses, Bell said.
Chief District Judge Marcia Morey has already assigned a magistrate to the police department on weekdays to speed up the issuance of warrants.
"We're going to continue to see about ensuring that an individual who's arrested, especially for a violent crime, doesn't spend that night at home and that the victims don't see them back on the block," Police Chief Jose Lopez said.
Morey said Durham County magistrates will continue to follow general guidelines for setting bonds but will take the effort to halt gun crimes to heart.
"I think the mayor's message is clear," Morey said. "He's not instructing the courts what to do. We will do what we do by the laws and guidelines, but we're all paying attention to it."
Bell said police and community groups are going to start targeting high-crime areas like northeast central Durham and east Durham. He said he doesn't want to brand them as unsafe neighborhoods but said statistics show that they need more attention from police.