I’m a fan of police procedural novels and I’m probably seen a hundred of the thousands of episodes of the various Law and Order shows on TV. I’ve read most of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller Books. Most of John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport’s “Prey” series and also those featuring Davenport’s occasional sidekick Virgil Flowers. And then there is James Patterson whose Kiss the Girls brought his detective hero Alex Cross here to Durham to solve the mystery of his niece’s kidnapping.
This, of course, makes me an expert on crime and policing. Durham has a lot going on with policing at the moment and a lot of it involves the politics that all those fictional detectives despise but add some of the drama.
After a burglary in my home in the fall of last year I started paying a lot more attention to the local situation. In spite of Durham’s reputation for crime it was my first personal encounter with crime since moving here in 1984. It was an interesting experience but much more important things are happening now with the police with broad implications for the future. More recently we have had the forced retirement of Police Chief, Jose Lopez. He was recruited 8 years ago which makes him the longest serving chief in my 30 plus years in Durham. So hiring a new chief will now take the spotlight for a while.
Maybe just as significant is the recent commitment to build a new police station. The site has been chosen but there has been quite a bit of debate about the design and how it fits into the Downtown Durham landscape.
I was a little surprised to see Chief Lopez forced out. He was an affable enough guy when he could find time to attend Rotary. One meeting he brought his whole command structure and at one meeting last spring he introduced a new hire in the police department to handle public affairs, a communications pro and former wide receiver for NCCU, Wil Glenn. In retrospect, these things had to be in response to pressure to improve the public relations of the department. But as loaded with movers and shakers as the Rotary Club is, that is not where the public relations problem lies. Most Rotarians are not victims of profiling, get hassled at traffic stops or are shy to cooperate with the police when necessary. I never heard of a Rotarian getting shot by a policeman either. Where the rubber meets the road on a police public relations program is on those beats with the officers in their cars and on there motorcycles, bikes, scooters and skates. No amount of public relations spin can help it if it continually breaks down there.
I think I see Mr. Glenn’s fingerprints on a couple of things already and I hope the new chief and his or her bosses get it. But it’s just as important that every cop understand that public relations cannot be delegated. It’s also important that citizens of Durham make an effort to understand more about what policing in Ordinary Durham is all about. I can recommend two good places to start.
For a very current look at policing in Durham from street level, I recommend a series of articles in the Herald-Sun written by new crime reporter, Katie Nix. Whoops, Herald-Sun editor Bob Ashley refers to her as a public safety reporter and says the idea for the series came from Nix herself who noticed how the scenery changed as she traversed three of Durham’s 5 police districts. To get the stories she rode along on patrol in each district with a beat cop. My only gripe is in the wrap article that discusses crime statistics which focuses on percentage increases rather than actually numbers. A 100% increase in axe murders sounds awful unless it goes from 1 to 2. (None of Durham’s murders are axe murders as far as I know.) It’s like the cardiologist telling you if you don’t take your statins the likelihood of a heart attact doubles (from a tiny number to a very small one. Or if you play the lottery, by buying two tickets you can DOUBLE your chances of winning from 1 in 400 milion to 1 in 200 million. You can find the series on HeraldSun.com. I had hoped they would group the articles at one link but that didn’t happen. I found the easiest way to reach the articles is click on the little search magnifying glass on the menu bar and search “Katie Nix District” and you’ll find them.
The second source is the city’s flashy new website. The police department home page is here. The once separate website Durhampolice.com now goes to the same page on the city site. There is also a CrimeStoppers website that’s pretty lame but looks like it might eventually be blended into the larger site.
One way to stay abreast of local policing is subscribe to the list serve for your neighborhood or the list for each PAC (Partners Against Crime) The PACs are a whole different story and each district has its own PAC organization.
I was originally going to add a paragraph with something about the proposed new police headquarters but now have decided that it deserves more attention than that. There are two aspects of the decision that haven’t had much discussion that are of some concern. I’ll save that for another post.