Durham's one mission, says interim chief: 'Dealing with violent crime'

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Mayor Bill Bell, Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews, and Interim Durham Police Chief Larry Smith discuss the violence.

Mayor Bill Bell was joined by Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews and Interim Durham Police Chief Larry Smith Thursday to address the rise in violent crime in the city - including two murders in the opening days of 2016.

Mayor Bell said although the city is looking for a new police chief, the problem is too serious to wait, and he asked for the sheriff and interim chief to meet to come up with a new anti-violent-crime initiative.

"We take the issue of violent crime in our community very seriously," said Bell. "It's not going to be tolerated."

Police say the drug trade is fueling much of the violence.

Andrews said more than fifty detainees being held inside the Durham County Detention Center are facing murder charges right now.

Bell said Durham had been seeing a decrease in violent crime until 2014, but it's been on a steady increase over the last year. Bell said he was especially disturbed by the violence already seen in 2016.

"Two homicides is two homicides too many," he offered.

Some people are skeptical of whether the efforts will help. Activist Minister Paul Scott calls the city's latest press conference "pageantry."

"I've heard it all before," Scott said.

Chief Smith said he is consolidating various units under one commander to deal with the issue.

"Right now, the city needs one mission and that's dealing with violent crime," he said.

Smith urged residents who know of people who have guns who should not to call Crimestoppers to tip off police and prevent violence.


"There's never any excuse to take up guns and shoot people," he said.

But Scott says he is moving forward with plans to start a vigilante group.

"We've got to come up with solutions that do no involve the police department or politicians," the minister said. "My wife and my daughter is going to be protected by any means necessary."

Police said they prefer to see the people work with authorities, and not take matters into their hands.

"We want the community involved, but I don't have a comment on vigilante. Vigilante, that word alone, leads me to some concern. If people want to come on and legitimately help, I have no problem with that," Interim Chief Smith said.

While most of the shootings are happening in one area, Sheriff Andrews said that doesn't mean it should be ignored by the wider community.

"This is everyone's problem. There is no such thing as not in my backyard," he said.

Andrews said as a father and soon-to-be grandfather, he's disturbed by the age of the shooters and their victims.

"It pains me to see young people die in our community," he said. "I encourage you to make better choices."

"A life of killing is a fast track to prison," he continued. "I'm here to encourage you to choose life."

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