Violent crime in Durham continued an upward trend in August, prompting several city council members to vent some frustration Thursday.
"The trend doesn't look good," said Mayor Bill Bell.
Bell was responding to Police Chief Jose L. Lopez's monthly crime report, delivered to a council work session.
Lopez did have some good news: a continuing decline in property crime, a 93 percent clearance rate for the year's 16 homicides (the FBI puts the national average at 57 percent) and a 32 percent drop in juvenile crime compared with 2007.
"That's a good trend," Bell said.
However, Lopez's report also showed that Durham had 1,240 instances of homicide, rape, aggravated assault and robbery from Jan. 1 through August, 97 more than for the same period in 2007. July 2008 brought 161 violent crimes, August another 189.
"What can we do as a community, along with the police department, to try to reduce this?" Bell said.
Lopez replied that his department has some major operations under way and is "moving out ... to have the public coordinate efforts with us." He also said that crime rates can be affected by factors such as the street price of narcotics and "who got out of jail today."
That prompted Bell to mention the much-discussed "revolving door" issue, of suspects committing more crimes while free on bail. Council member Eugene Brown brought up problems with probation oversight.
"We've got 4,200 individuals on probation in Durham," Brown said, and about 50 probation officers to handle them. "That's around 80 per staff person. ... That's almost impossible."
Brown laid responsibility on "our glorious state legislature," which appropriated an additional $2.5 million for the probation system in "an aggregate state budget approaching $21 billion. ... The state, when it comes to this probation issue, is putting every citizen in harm's way."
Lopez said Durham also needs more support for social services, a reduction in drug addiction and problems with truancy.
"That's a serious problem," said council member Howard Clement.
Clement also brought up a November 2005 case in which four men were murdered in southern Durham.
"That case is still pending," he said.
Lopez answered that there has been an arrest and the case remains under active investigation.
Clement said, "It's frustrating."