DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – After there were more than 900 shooting incidents in the City of Durham in 2020, city and county officials are voting to renew funding for the Durham Gang Reduction Strategy on Monday.
While COVID-19 may be one of the factors that led to a recent rise in crime, Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis recently said that several of the recent shootings in Durham are gang-related.
The Durham Gang Reduction Strategy has been in place in the Bull City since 2007. It has been working since then to reduce the number of gang members in Durham.
“It’s safe to say that we have more than 2,000 active gang members in Durham,” said Jim Stuit, manager of the Durham Gang Reduction Strategy.
Stuit said that 26 percent of the juveniles arrested in Durham County are either gang members or affiliated with a gang. He said that, statewide, only 7 percent of juveniles are affiliated with a gang.
“For a county like us and with our demographics, we still feel that’s a very high number and that’s a number that we are trying to get down,” Stuit said.
Stuit said they are taking a three-pronged approach to reduce gang members, which includes prevention. Through this approach, he said they work to prevent young kids from joining gangs by making sure they have a quality education.
He said the second approach is intervention as they provide alternative activities and after school programs to individuals who may already be involved in gang life.
And finally, he said the third approach is suppression as law enforcement works those behind the gang-related crime and keeps the community safe.
Robert Belcher is a community activist and founder of “A Chance to Change.”
Belcher grew up in Durham and he said he was 13-years-old when he was recruited into gang life at Neal Middle School.
“I just got tied up in an altercation with a group of guys who had an issue with me,” Belcher said.
“Then another group of guys came to me and said, ‘We see you arguing with them. We’ll help you.'”
At that point, he said he was initiated.
Belcher said he is no longer a part of that lifestyle, but he is familiar with the current street life in Durham. He argued that city and county officials should not pin all of the recent shootings on gangs.
“It’s not actual gangs with names. It’s ‘groups’ that are committing the shootings,” Belcher said. “They’re claiming their street; they’re claiming their neighborhood.”
Belcher argued that the biggest problem driving up the shootings in Durham right now is poverty. He said city and county officials need to address this issue.
“If they were approaching it like it’s a gang situation and we don’t have a gang problem, that’s why we’re still dealing with the same thing,” Belcher said.
Stuit said renewed funding for the Gang Reduction Strategy will be used to bring on a consultant who specializes in bringing gang activity down.
Stuit said a Gang Reduction Strategy Assessment will be put out later this year.