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Durham murder rate rises, but expert says it could be due to random fluctuation

For the first six months of 2018, the murder rate in Durham was 40 percent higher than during the same period last year. 

The Durham Police Department’s quarterly report said there were 14 homicides by the second quarter in 2018 compared to ten in the same period in 2017. However, that sort of spike may be due to random fluctuation. 

“The kind of variability could be meaningless and in effect random variation,” said Phillip Cook, ITT/Terry Sanford professor emeritus of public policy studies. 

Cook co-authored a study examining the nature of gun violence in Durham using Durham Police Department data from 2015. In the study, he analyzed criminal gunshots and how homicides fit into gun violence in Durham.

All homicides in Durham in 2018 have been listed as "homicide murder and non-negligent manslaughter," defined as "any death due to injuries received in a fight, quarrel, argument, assault, or commission of a crime."

Accordingly, many homicides in Durham catalogued in the 2015 study took place during another crime, usually a robbery or criminal assault. Most of the gunshot victims in Durham that year were young, black men. Drive-by shootings accounted for 57 percent of shootings. 

The data from 2015 showed that 205 people were shot in the progress of another crime. Of these victims, 24 died as a result of their injuries. 

“Whether the victim lives or dies depends on the exact location of the wound or wounds, which in turn is often more a matter of chance than the intent of the shooter,” the study authored by Cook noted. 

Following Cook's argument, If a gunshot victim dies, it can be partly chalked up to random chance. More than half of the homicides reported in the first half of 2018 in Durham were due to gunshot wounds. 

The murder rate in the most recent quarterly report is the only crime that increased. The Chronicle reached out to the Durham Police Department by phone four times and emailed twice for comment but received no response.

According to the report, violent crime in Durham—including homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault—was down by 28 percent. Rape was down by 11 percent, while robbery and aggravated assault were down by 36 percent and 25 percent, respectively. 

Property crime—including burglary, larceny and vehicle theft—was down by 10 percent.

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