Durham violence interrupters conduct 275 mediations in the first 90 days of expansion, officials say

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – As deadly shootings in Durham are on the rise, the county’s Bull City United Violence Interruption program has expanded to help curb violence in the community.

The latest data from Durham police shows that 34 people have been shot and killed in Durham this year, which is a 29 percent jump from the 24 people shot and killed this time last year.

Bull City United, a program started in 2016 by Durham County, originally consisted of seven members who are either “violence interrupters” or outreach workers.

The people in the group serve as mediators to help prevent future shootings or violence from happening. Originally, the group only worked in two areas of the city, which included the area near McDougald Terrace and an area near the intersection of Fayetteville and East Umstead streets.

In January, the Durham City Council voted to spend $935,488 to expand the program to four more locations in the city and to add 18 more positions, which would include violence interrupters, outreach workers, and supervisors.

So far, five of the 18 new positions have been filled, bringing the total number of Bull City United members to 12.

As a result, Bull City United has been able to expand to two more census tracts, which includes the Braggtown area and part of the city near Cornwallis Road Apartments.

But county leaders said Monday they still need to hire 13 more people so they can expand to the areas of the city near Franklin Village and Edgemont Elms.

“They respond to every shooting within their census tract,” Joanne Pierce, Durham County’s general manager for health and wellbeing said during Monday morning’s Durham County Board of Commissioner’s meeting.

Pierce provided data during the meeting that showed that from July through September, Bull City United workers conducted 275 mediations.

According to the data, in the area south of the Durham Freeway near Fayetteville Street and East Umstead Street, they conducted 63 mediations, while 87 mediations were done in the McDougald Terrace area, there were 74 mediations in the Cornwallis Road area, and 51 mediations in the Oxford Manor area.

“A mediation can have many different forms, so it might be just talking with someone over coffee or going for a walk with someone,” Pierce said. “It’s really just them using their ability to be a credible messenger within the community.”

David Johnson, supervisor for Bully City United, told CBS 17 in September that the mediations include working to prevent retaliations after a shooting occurs.

“It’s working to prevent retaliation, yes, but also just being there to support the families and the friends of the victims,” Johnson said.

But even when a shooting doesn’t occur, he said they are constantly in the community having conversations with people they know in the key areas to find out what can be done to prevent future conflicts and shootings.

“BCU (Bull City United) members are from those communities, so they know these individuals,” Johnson said. “It’s about having a conversation, just knowing where to be and who to work with.”

But did crime go down in areas where Bull City United expanded this year?

According to data from the city’s crime map, the number of aggravated assaults from July 1 to November 1 of this year has gone down in the Cornwallis Road area as there 16 aggravated assaults this year within a mile of that area, compared to the 22 aggravated assaults in that same location this time last year.

But in the Oxford Manor area, the number of aggravated assaults during that same time frame has remained the same at 26 since the program’s expansion.

CBS 17 spoke to one mother of six children who lives at Oxford Manor who did not want to give her name or show her face, but she said she still hears gunfire in the area on a regular basis.

“They are shooting out here all the time,” she said.

She said one time a bullet even flew into her family’s apartment.

“It went through my nephew’s window, went through the shower, and flew across my face,” she said.

Luckily, no one was hit, she said.

The mother said that she has noticed the shootings during the day have gone down, but she said they still hear gunfire at night. She hopes something can be done to address the problem.

“Put the guns down, let’s talk,” she said.

Durham County still needs to hire 13 more people for the violence interrupter expansion.

Pierce said during Thursday’s county commissioner’s meeting that these positions are not easy to fill.

“Primarily because of the nature of the work and you truly have to be a credible messenger, not just anyone can go into a community, provide mediation with a potentially violent issue and be able to quell it,” Pierce said.

Pierce said they plan to bring on at least six more violence interrupters or outreach workers by the end of next month, and they plan to have all 18 positions filled by June 30, 2022.

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