Program Write Up: Durham Police Department with Chief Lopez

Durham Police Chief and club member Jose Lopez gave an informative and, at points, witty talk about law enforcement in the city.  Fortunately, Chief Lopez who utilized a Powerpoint presentation, was accompanied and saved on more than one occasion by his more tech-savvy sidekick, Lieutenant Patrice Vickers.  We learned from Past President Newman’s introduction that Chief Lopez was born in Brooklyn and came to Durham from the Hartford, Connecticut police department where he had served for 22 years.  He graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the FBI National Academy. 

When Chief Lopez was hired in 2007 one of his chief assets that appealed to the search committee was his reputation for community policing and “being out on the streets with the cops and community.”  With a touch of humility, Chief Lopez says the Durham PD already had its hands out to the community and his job was just to reinforce that attitude.  The old “police vs. the community is out the window.”  The professionalism of the department’s 512 sworn officers and 116 civilians is attested by the department’s CALEA accreditation.  Certification by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies is the “gold standard in public safety” and is awarded only after a thorough assessment of a department’s performance.

In reviewing Durham’s crime statistics, Lopez admitted the 5 percent rise in violent crime in 2010-2011 is a bit “shocking” but it shouldn’t overshadow the 25 percent decline over the last 10 years.  What was certainly news to me, if I understood the Chief correctly, is that violent crimes are measured by the number of victims, or potential victims, and not by the number of incidents.  For example, if someone shoots at a moving vehicle containing four people, the statistics report four crimes, not one.  In regard to larceny, Chief Lopez said in 52 percent of the cases, people had left their property unsecured and cars unlocked.   Impressively, the DPD responds to a reported incident in just 5.46 minutes—the target goal was 6 minutes.  (56 percent respond in under five minutes!)  Automatic vehicle locators installed in all police cars now enable dispatchers to quickly determine which officer is closest to the scene of  an incident.  One team the Chief cited for effectiveness is the Warrant Squad.  As he drily put it, “They are good at finding people.”

Chief Lopez is clearly proud of the department’s outreach programs and initiatives to prevent crimes.  Durham’s Police Athletic League (PAL), begun two years ago with no public funding, provides an opportunity for more than 500 kids to participate in basketball, soccer and baseball programs.  Partners include Durham schools, parks and rec, churches, boys and girls club, and Salvation Army among others.  Durham’s participation in National Night Out Against Crime earned an 8th place award among cities of comparable size.  Incidentally, the 2012 National Night Out that promotes partnership between police and community is scheduled for Tuesday, August 12th.   A residential awareness program sends officers door to door to inform residents of recent local crimes with the added bonus of residents sometimes providing tips leading to arrests or recovery of stolen property.  Another proactive effort is BECOMING (Building Every Chance of Making It Now and Grown Up).  Launched by a consortium that includes the Durham PD and supported with grant money, this program identifies and reaches out to “disconnected youth.”   In many cases, these young people suffer from mental disorders or extraordinary emotional stresses.   “They need mental health services, not prison,” the Chief said.

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

Click the link for information about next weeks program about the return of North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights.

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