Is gang crime really down in Raleigh?

July 13, 2010 4:21:54 PM PDT
A June report from the Raleigh Police Department shows officers are getting the job done when it comes to gang crime - and then some.

Click here to read the report (.pdf)

The "Raleigh Police Department’s Response to Gang Activity: 2009 Public Report" touts a 49 percent reduction in gang crime for 2009.

So is gang crime really down by that much? The I-Team found the RPD arrived at the statistic by looking at the number of incidents in January 2009 compared to the number of incidents in December 2009.

It's true that - when looking at just those two months - the number of incidents dropped by half from 161 down to 82. But, it's also true the numbers fluctuated quite a bit during the year.

ABC11 I-Team reporter Shae Crisson spoke to Chief Harry Dolan about the numbers.

"Some on the surface would say 'Wait a second, if you look at January numbers to December, that's not really cutting gang crime in half unless you're comparing January-to-January, year- to-year," said Crisson.

"That could be a fair argument, but we feel that the number in January was very representative of our 2008 year regrettably. That was based on their review of 2008, so they were getting very excited that we're starting to make some real headway," Dolan explained.

Dolan said his department implemented a comprehensive plan in 2009 to report, record, and reduce gang activity.

And, he says the numbers are headed in the right direction for 2010.

"We didn't turn any major corner where we can wave any banner of success, but to us that's very encouraging," said Dolan.

But how encouraged should we be? The I-Team took the numbers to Len Stefanski - a statistics professor at NC State.

He told us comparing statistics from just January and December doesn't tell the full picture. He pointed out there could be seasonal trends that play a role in the numbers.

Stefanski saw another statistic that could be misleading. Raleigh police claim they cut gang related gun incidents by more than 50 percent.

That's technically true if you compare just January and December, but there was a spike in September.

"So in the case of the reported figures for firearms, that's probably misleadingly high. It should be more near 26 percent," said Stefanski.

So what are citizens to believe? The numbers expert says it's down 26 percent. The chief says 53 percent.

"We could argue statistics all day, but we're seeing the violent crime reduced," said Dolan.

The chief says his officers see it first-hand on the streets after the department beefed up its gang suppression and intelligence units, targeted problem neighborhoods with mobile command centers, and started locking up gang members longer by charging them with federal crimes.

But the chief says the most important statistic in cutting gang violence is the high school graduation rate.

"It starts with and ends with children going to school and knowing that they have hope, and addressing poverty, and what we look at with young people as lost souls. I don't know how else to describe it, as they look in your eyes - like they don't know if there's any other future for them - and they almost look at you like 'Why did it take you so long to arrest me?' If we know that, then let's all get behind that. And yes, we can win this," said Dolan.

When we pressed Raleigh police about the way they presented the numbers - just using two months worth - they dug a little deeper into their statistics and sent us more information to show how much gang crime has come down.

Comparing the first 6 months of last year to this year, the number of gang related incidents went down from 816 to 499.

That's a 39 percent decrease.

It's still not the 49 percent they originally claimed, but the bottom line is their efforts seem to be working and gang crime is going down.

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