Durham County Sheriff reveals cross-county 'Strike Team' 14 months after creation

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Two law enforcement officers were patrolling outside a Durham public housing complex when their car was suddenly shot at. Multiple rounds of gunfire pierced through the car but left the officers unharmed.

Two days later, on April 11, the Durham County Sheriff's Office issued a statement on the incident and offered a $5,000 reward for information on the suspect. The agency didn't reveal that the car and one of the deputies belonged to the Alamance County Sheriff's Office.

"We were working with Alamance County deputies who were assisting us in that particular mission and unfortunately someone shot at the undercover vehicle and no arrests have been made," Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead admitted on Wednesday.

The April 9 mission was executed by deputies with the 'Strike Team,' a unit formed between the sheriff's offices in Durham, Alamance, Guilford and Orange counties to tackle violent crime across county lines.

"As we all know, crime has no boundaries. We don't expect the criminals to stop at the county line," Birkhead said. "My jurisdiction stops at the county line, that is why it is critical for us to have these partnerships in our neighboring counties."

Documents show the agreement for the team was officially signed in March 2021 but the sheriffs didn't publically announce the collaboration until Wednesday; 14 months later and six days before North Carolina Primary day.

"We've been doing this work long before we decided to hold this press conference but we think it's time to let people know what we are doing because we continue to see the gun violence and everyone is wondering what is going on? What are we doing to address the gun violence?" Birkhead said.

Shootings in Durham are up 6% compared to this time last year, according to April data from the Durham Police Department.

COLLABORATION NOTHING NEW



The sheriffs said the counties collaborated many years ago to tackle a string of robberies and violent homicides across the region. The recent 'Strike Team' was formed under the suggestion of former U.S. Attorney Matt Martin as gun violence increased.

"In Alamance County, we've had homicides from people coming out of Durham, we've had all kinds of gun violence in Alamance coming from all over surrounding Alamance County," Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson said Wednesday.

There have been few public mentions of the team since its formation. In March 2021, Durham County referenced the team after four people were arrested for drug trafficking. Months later, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood credited the partnership for an arrest in a September home invasion and assault in Hillsborough.

The sheriffs said the team's operations mostly focus on drug, gun, and human trafficking crimes, especially along the I-85/I-40 corridor.

"I'm getting tired of hearing and seeing the mothers, complaining and crying about the senseless deaths of them losing their Black men, young men to gun violence," Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers said.

TARGETING VIOLENT CRIMINALS



The sheriffs touted the 'Strike Team' as a way to share information and target violent criminals who are committing crimes across county lines.

"These are violent offenders or outstanding warrants that are on our books and we are going after these individuals who have not been brought to justice yet," Birkhead said.

Birkhead said deputies from other counties will not be randomly policing in Durham or vice versa.

"We are not doing randomized traffic stops," Birkhead said. "Will Alamance County deputies be patrolling the streets of Durham? No. This is a strategic effort to apprehend, locate and apprehend those individuals who are on our list."

Birkhead said Durham deputies have assisted in 41 operations, arrested 84 people, issued 278 charges, and seized 42 guns between January 2021 and March 2022.

The Alamance County Sheriff's Office said its deputies have arrested 62 people and seized 58,000 grams of cocaine and 19 guns since April 2021.

Meanwhile, Orange County's monthly 'Strike Team' reports revealed its deputies arrested 124 people and pressed 536 charges in 2021.

"We're letting our communities know that not just here in Durham but all across these jurisdictions we are working on it. We will continue to work on it," Birkhead said.

POOLING RESOURCES



The collaboration also comes at a time when almost every police agency in the nation is operating with a staff shortage.

"Pulling together resources to address specific issues is not only cost-effective and efficient, but it's also safe. It's safe for the officers involved. It's safe for the criminal element and it's certainly safe for the community," Blackwood said.

Birkhead echoed this benefit.

"It makes sense to us that we work together because we all have finite resources. So where my strike team might be composed of six or seven, I can now double that by using Alamance or Orange or Guilford and really be safe, and very effective and strategically focused on identifying those individuals that are on our list," he said.

The sheriffs said that though they are making progress, they would like to see further collaboration from state and local prosecutors and even more sheriffs.

"In my opinion, it's working. We're doing great work. We will continue to do this work," Birkhead said.
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