DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Durham police believe some of the city’s recent homicides are gang-related.
Search warrants in a late-May drug investigation reveal members of the Durham Police Department Gang Unit were on patrol near an apartment complex on Junction Road following an early morning murder. Officers found the body of 16-year-old Duwayne Clay, Jr. inside a stolen car which was abandoned outside Duke Hospital.
The warrant said investigators were in the Junction Road area due to “the possibility of retaliation due to the homicide,” as well as because of the recent gang and drug activity near the apartments.
The report said a car went to “a parking lot across from the area where the Gang Investigators were standing” in an area with no other cars around. The Gang Unit inspected the vehicle after its driver and passenger left, and spotted marijuana inside.
Sergeant Thomas McMaster of the department’s Organized Crime Division said it is unknown what percentage of crimes involve gang members, but he does not know of any crime in the book which hasn’t been committed by someone in a gang.
“I don’t think there are any exclusive crimes to gang members. There may be a little more of a propensity to violence,” McMaster said.
“They’ve branched into more crimes to increase their financial standing, whether it be fraud and theft and robberies, things like that.”
McMaster said the prevalence of gangs in Durham has not changed significantly in the past decade. However, the city does not see the same type of turf wars that existed in the past.
“Gangs are more mobile now, with vehicles and ways to get around, so the turf is not as important as it was maybe 20 years ago, or as we saw when movies and TV started to glamorize gang lifestyle,” he said.
“Gangs move around very freely through the city, so sometimes there’s violence that seems somewhat random, but it’s just because two rival gangs may have come across each other in areas where they didn’t expect to.
There’s not so much the home turf or the exclusive areas we used to see.”
Lieutenant Genavous Minor said that mobility poses the biggest challenge to investigators.
“We can’t be everywhere, so if there’s an area in the city of Durham that we’re providing or giving attention to, going and trying to be proactive in preventing crimes, they can see what’s going on on one side of town, and easily go to another side of town and commit the same offenses that they wanted to commit over where they saw the Gang Unit,” Minor said.
The Durham Gang Unit’s supervisors said the 12-person team does not conduct undercover operations, but officers often wear plain clothes along with safety vests which identify them as police. McMaster said they want gangs and community members to be aware of the police presence.
Investigators want tips from neighbors about gangs so they can disrupt and stop those activities. Minor said it is essential that people report gunshots.
“It’s quite often that we have shootings, that the shots fired calls go unreported and moments later we have someone walk into a hospital with a gunshot wound. It may be a hospital in another nearby city. The person that was shot may tell us they were shot at one location when actually it happened somewhere else,” Minor said.
“If we never get the reports of the person being shot, where the offense truly happened, it’s kind of hard for us to go and make that neighborhood safer.”
Durham Police efforts to discourage youth from joining gangs include a community services division which has a Durham Police Athletic/Activities League (DPAL). Officers try to mentor young individuals through sports, including baseball, soccer, basketball, and cheerleading. Some of the officers coach teams and take children to Durham Bulls games.
The investigators said they are constantly developing new and alternative sources to obtain gang information, but did not want to reveal exactly what those methods are.
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