Reporting crime is part of the crime-solving puzzle


Sometimes bullet holes in the wall of a house serve as the only indication that a crime has occurred.

Franklin Village Apartment Complex resident Sheryl Smith raises her granddaughter, one-year-old Ke’Asia, whose father Smith said recently played a role in an unreported shooting. (Staff photo by Caitlin Owens)

Although Durham officials encourage community members to call the police when a crime is committed, both parties claim that incidents frequently go unreported.

Victims often fail to report violent crime in particular. This results from either a desire to handle the situation themselves, a fear of retaliation or a lack of trust in the police, Master Officer Kevin Hopkins said.

Out of the three, the desire for “street justice” prevents people from reporting crime most frequently, Hopkins said.

“If the family is gang-affiliated or something like that, they like to handle it themselves,” he said. “They don’t think the police will get the justice that they want. The reality is that it’s an eye for an eye.”

Although establishing a definite connection between the perpetrator of a crime and gang involvement usually proves difficult, Hopkins said most violent activity is gang-related.

“If you search and you dig hard enough, somehow or some way they are associated with a known gang member,” he said.

Some community members do see the danger of handling crime without police intervention. Sheryl Smith, a resident of Franklin Village Apartment Complex, sees the necessity of police involvement in a situation currently affecting her family. Her daughter’s boyfriend, also the father of her granddaughter, was involved in a shooting a couple of weeks ago.

Although he and the two victims are known to have had previous conflict, neither party has cooperated with the police. Smith recently spoke with the boy’s mother, who also did not report anything.

“I was like, ‘What’s wrong with you? If you don’t call the police you’re getting him killed. So it’s just like, if you call the police, you get the child killed and if you don’t call the police you get the child killed,’” Smith said.

Charles Lyons, resident safety coordinator of the Durham Housing Authority, estimated that within the housing communities he works in, 80 percent of all crime goes unreported.

He believes fear of retaliation for “snitching” most often motivates the residents’ silence.

“You make a phone call,” Lyons said. “If you make the call and don’t request that the officer not come to your house when reporting a crime, he may come there. You got spies all over the neighborhood. They see what’s going down. That’s the house where the cops came to and that’s the one that turned in what went down. So you’re possibly subjected to retaliation.”

Lyons and other resident services staff members of the housing authority have worked to create open channels of communication with the residents. They want the residents to feel comfortable enough to call them with crime reports. The staff members can then call the police department with the information given to them and the residents can remain anonymous.

To Lyons, it all comes down to trust. And he believes that over the past couple of years, this trust has been built between the resident services staff and the community members.

“We’ve never had rapport,” he said. “We’ve never had a network like this. We have a network that’s unbelievable.”

Lyons has also partnered with the Durham Police Department and Project Safe Neighborhoods to educate residents on safe methods of reporting crime.

Project Safe Neighborhoods focuses on deterring and punishing gun crime by using local data to create effective approaches. Beginning in August, Jennifer Snyder, the project’s coordinator, has been attending resident council meetings in different housing communities and speaking on how to safely report crime.

“I think that the whole anti-snitching culture is probably exaggerated,” she said. “I think more people buy into not snitching than the public needs to be fearful about. But at the same time, I don’t live that reality, so I don’t really know.”

Snyder, like Lyons, believes education about ways to anonymously report crime is key. During her presentations, she gives three different methods: calling 911 but refusing to give a name, calling a non-emergency number about non-urgent issues and calling Crime-Stoppers with tips.

“Citizens – residents like you and I – need to make just a few changes and we can – I promise you – we can improve things if we work together on this,” Snyder said during one of her presentations.

Chief investigative reporter for the Durham VOICE and UNC-Chapel Hill student. Contact the Durham VOICE staff at thedurhamvoice@gmail.com.