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Gang Report Criticizes Durham Schools, Law Enforcement

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

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DURHAM, N.C. — 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.


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