Crime and safety are top concerns for many residents, fueled too often by high-profile cases where children are injured or killed in gun violence.
Durham police have said that violent crime declined by 11 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, but homicides rose by 31 percent. The trend has been reflected nationwide.
Durham's Gang Reduction Taskforce surveyed 40 current and former gang members. They learned all of them are tied to at least eight gangs in Durham.
Durham's gang problem is tied to at least 12 neighborhoods in the Bull City. They are concentrated around Highway 98 and south of the Durham Freeway where data shows many children live in poverty, according to the task force.
The eight-member panel met Wednesday to discuss what its research shows from Census data, school and police records.
The panel interviewed 40 people, many of them tied to gangs for at least five years or more, with their ages ranging from early teens to 40s.
The taskforce discovered several contributing factors:
- Lack of education, which leads to unemployment or under employment.
- A high rate of substance abuse
- Family members who are in a gang.
- There is a gang culture in their neighborhood
The gang members feel emotionally supported and protected by these groups. Eighty-five percent of gang members surveyed said youth recreation programs could help.
"We have a serious gang problem," said Keith DosReis Jr. He said he has seen it every day for the past seven years.
DosReis is Durham's Parks and Recreation supervisor and manages daily teen activities at Holton Career and Resource Center on North Driver Street.
Kids can gather on the weekdays and weekends to lounge, play video games, sports or work out for free.
"If you have a place to be you don't have to deal with the gangs. We're just trying to get that information out there to the teens this is a place you can come to be safe," DosReis said. "Even if you're in a gang."
But they need the community to participate.
On Wednesday night, they had to cancel their Games Over Gangs event because of low registration.
The goal is to show them and tell them they have another option and their futures matter.
"I can't say that we're going to save them all but for the ones that I can tell, they've come back and talk to me and say hey thank you for the opportunity," DosReis said. "I'm doing this now or I'm looking for this job or I'm looking to go to college."
These youth activities are free.
To participate you can register on the Durham Parks and Recreation website.
Experts suggest the response to crime in the last two years has been significantly altered due to COVID-19--especially pandemic-related staffing shortages. Durham Police Department said it has 80 positions that remain unfilled at this time.