Local News

Gang Report Criticizes Durham Schools, Law Enforcement

Posted December 18, 2007
Updated March 13, 2008

— A new report analyzing gang activity in Durham criticizes public schools for ignoring the problem and law enforcement for a disorganized response.

The report was funded last year by the Durham Police Department and the Durham County Sheriff's Office. Authors Deborah Weisel, a North Carolina State University professor, and James Howell, of the National Youth Gang Center, are expected to present their findings to Durham City Council and the Durham County Board of Commissioners Thursday.

"Many at-risk youth in Durham are disconnected from – or at least not strongly bonded to – the two core institutions in our society that are expected to nourish and socialize children: families and schools," the report said.

Truancy is a problem at some local schools – three middle schools located in hot spots for gang violence have some of the lowest attendance rates in the state – but little is done to keep the students in school, the report said.

School resource officers said gang activity is growing in middle schools but that the Durham Public Schools system downplays the problem, according to the report.

"Durham’s official response to juvenile gang members is largely to ignore or downplay them," the report said.

As a result, home-grown gangs continue to recruit new members in their neighborhoods. More than a quarter of juveniles adjudicated in Durham were identified as gang members, which is three times the statewide rate, the report said.

Local gang intervention initiatives aren't well developed or centrally coordinated and need to be expanded.

Likewise, law enforcement efforts to fight adult gang members aren't well coordinated, the report said.

The Durham Police Department's 30-person gang unit − the largest gang unit among agencies of similar size nationwide – also is assigned to other tasks like prostitution operations. So, many officers aren't able to describe specific activities of the gang unit, the report said.

Backlogged courts discourage guilty pleas – three major gang homicide cases tried in 2007 took place nearly three years after the crimes – and allow gang members to intimidate witnesses and jury members, according to the report. Gang members awaiting trial contributed to a 36 percent increase in the inmate population in the Durham County Jail between 2002 and 2006.

As with juveniles, strategies for dealing with adult gang members are sporadic, according to the report. About 17 percent of gang members were arrested at least 10 times during a seven-year period, the report said.

"During custody or upon release, there are few resources to assist gang members in leaving the gang. Durham gang members released from detention center go back to the same setting that gave rise to their arrest, and this contributes to recidivism and long-term criminal involvement," the report said.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Justice and the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Durham can reorganize its gang intervention strategies, according to the report. The following steps were recommended:

  • Prioritize gang cases in the courts to resolve them more quickly.
  • Restructure the police gang unit to focus on improved intelligence and fast prosecutions.
  • Coordinate local services for troubled youths.
  • Enforce truancy sanctions and limit school expulsions to the most serious infractions.
  • Expand positive-behavior programs in schools.

This story is closed for comments.

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  • thepeopleschamp Dec 19, 2007

    Girls in high school are having children and the "fathers" are boys in h.s. that are already in a gang. What chance does that newborn have? Recently I've seen a 10th grader who is pregnant for the 3rd time. You can't count the pregnant girls in the halls fast enough during class change. Isn't it truw that Hillside and Athens Dr. has daycare in the high school for STUDENTS children? How in the world are the police supposed to be able to fix this? Most teachers and police I know have their own children to raise best they can. Don't blame them for the actions of others.

  • 68_polara Dec 19, 2007

    "I would think schools and law enforcement wouldn't be the top of the list for adding to the problem, especially since they are probably the only ones helping in a solution."

    Well, I'm sure they would help if we hadn't tied their hands at every opportunity, and hold them fully accountable every time they try. No good deed goes unpunished.

  • djofraleigh Dec 18, 2007

    "Durham gang members released from detention center go back to the same setting that gave rise to their arrest, and this contributes to recidivism and long-term criminal involvement," the report said."

    Compare that to the ones that go to group homes or wilderness camps and tell us how the numbers compare.

  • Durham-Raleigh Dec 18, 2007

    "Based on what I've viewed on TV, most Durham county and city leaders appear to be black. The problem with these black leaders is that they are in denial about the problems and really don't care to fix them."

    Oh, really? City Council: Three white, three black. Black mayor. County commission: Three white, two black. White chair. Black city manager, white county manager. White city attorney. School board: evenly split pretty much.

    Was there a point to your rant?

  • PHENOMENAL Dec 18, 2007

    The Government needs to stop wasting tax dollars to keep these gangs in school and just send them to fight in this war.

  • MarcoPolo Dec 18, 2007

    More Durham school children on their way to Orange, Wake and Granville County overcrowded school systems. Durham's incompetence knows no bounds. I think Durham should be fined by the state for this.

  • wcnc Dec 18, 2007

    I'm sure this thought has been posted already, but I would think the 2 leading causes of gang membership are the fact that there ARE gangs to begin with and that their are MANY bad parents.

    I woul dhtink schools and law enforcement wouldn't be the top of the list for adding to the problem, especially since they are probably the only ones helping in a solution.

  • playroyzway Dec 18, 2007

    maybe this has been said before here, but i hope wake co. takes a hint from this, or we will be in the same boat.

  • Clownsruletheworld Dec 18, 2007

    Parents (whether married or not) need to PARENT their children. Here's an idea, if a child isn't going to school, then with hold state aid, trust me, without that monthly check SOMEONE will make sure the child gets to school....

    That was actually a useful suggestion. Plus if their kids do something foolish and get thrown out of school, it affects their pocketbook.

  • doodad Dec 18, 2007

    Instead of spending 4 million dollars on a stupid bike trail, Durham needs to build another jail to hold all the criminals they can't seem to control.