Published: Sep 25, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Sep 23, 2012 04:30 PM
Conditions in Durham that foster gangs and juvenile crime are improving on several fronts, according to a new report.
However, even the encouraging numbers came in for questioning by City Council members last week.
“It really brings and conjures up a great deal of issues,” Councilman Eugene Brown said.
Jim Stuit, gang reduction strategy manager with the Durham County Criminal Justice Resource Center, briefed the council on the “Youth and Crime Community Indicator Report.” The report is compiled every other year as part of a city-county effort to get and keep young people out of criminal gangs.
“Durham has kind of a reputation for gangs; at least that’s what I hear when I go to conferences,” Stuit said. “That’s somewhat confirmed by this study.”
When North Carolina youths get mixed up with the criminal justice system, court counselors routinely ask whether the youngster is part of a gang.
Statewide, 6 percent say yes; in Durham, 20 percent – up from 16 percent when the last indicator report was done, in 2010.
“We really don’t believe that 20 percent of our youth (entering the criminal justice system), even our at-risk youth, are involved in gangs,” he said. “Maybe it’s considered cool in Durham to (say) that.”
The premise of “community indicators” is the “gang involvement and youth crime do not happen in a vacuum,” Stuit said. Factors including overall crime rates, school attendance, general welfare and the presence of intervention programs deter or encourage gang involvement.
As a positive sign, Stuit said dropout rates are down in the Durham Public Schools. But Councilman Steve Schewel, a former school board member, said dropout numbers don’t tell the real story.
“This dropout number ... isn’t the number people are really using any more to find out how many kids are really staying in school,” Schewel said. “It’s grossly underreporting the kids we’re missing.”
“Cohort survival,” the number of kids actually in school, accounts for dropouts as well as pupils who simply don’t appear again after a summer.
Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden said dropout figures also fail to include Durham youths in detention centers or other institutions.
“I’m sure they’re lost,” she said.
IBM consultants, in a study for Durham’s “Smart Cities” grant last spring, found data sharing among agencies dealing with “disconnected youth” needed to be improved, City Manager Tom Bonfield said. The consultants reported that such children represent a $1.2 billion annual drain on the city’s economy.
Statewide, North Carolina’s poverty rate is 16.3 percent; in Durham, it’s 18.9 percent. Durham also has an unusually high rate of children in single-parent households, Stuit said.
“This is where a lot of the problems occur: when we have youth who are unattended and don’t have anyone supervising them for large amounts of time,” he said. The peak time of day for juvenile violent crime, nationally, is 3 p.m. — “about the time school gets out.”
Brown said half of babies in Durham County are born to single parents, and that has “devastating” effects on families but “there’s a propensity not to talk about it.”
Gudrun Palmer, the Criminal Resource Center’s director, said Durham has some programs for teenage mothers, particularly to ensure they stay in school, but there are limits on what authorities can do.
“Once a person is 18 you have to allow them to define their family unit as they choose.”