More than 200 people have been shot in Durham this year. The city is averaging more than two shootings a day, data shows, and at least 48 people have died from the violence.
Homicides and shootings, however, aren’t among Durham’s top calls to police.
WRAL Data Trackers analyzed more than 52,000 calls to police from Jan. 1, 2020 to July 24, 2021. Violent crime, which includes aggravated assault, robbery, rape and homicide, make up less than 6 percent of all calls the police department responded to during that time.
“The number of 6 percent, to me, for the area of Durham, seems to be a little low,” said Mike Andrews, who served as Durham County sheriff from 2012 to 2018.
The number of calls related to violence may be low because of how crimes are recorded, Andrews said. He gave an example of a hypothetical situation where bullets from a drive-by shooting hit an house with people inside but that part of the home is empty.
“That could be classified, hypothetically, as vandalism or damage to property,” he said. “By law, it should be shooting into an occupied dwelling.”
By comparison, the more than 8,000 calls to police for towing cars accounted for more than 15 percent of all calls during the period WRAL analyzed – the largest share for single cause for calls to Durham police. The department told WRAL it gets involved with towing at the request of a resident or after a crash.
Outgoing Mayor Steve Schewel said many Durham police officers spend a large amount of their time responding to calls that aren’t violent.
“We have so many things our officers are responding to that aren’t violent crime,” Schewel said. “What we really need our officers doing is working every day, all the time, to try to prevent and solve violent crimes.”
Aggravated assaults made up the bulk of the 6 percent of calls related to violent crimes, followed by robberies. Homicides accounted for about 0.3 percent.
“There’s a lot of people in this city who are still heartbroken because they have lost a loved one – someone that was dear to them,” said Steven Shealey, whose brother, Wendell Zeigler, was killed in 2019.
Shealey supports Durham’s new Community Safety Department, which sends mental health workers and other unarmed responders to calls for nonviolent incidents.
“We’re talking about behavioral mental health calls, quality-of-life calls and calls for general assistance,” said Ryan Smith, who leads the Community Safety program. “We are not talking about sending unarmed responders to calls that might involve violent crime or a gunshot.”