The Durham Police Department was nearly three times more likely to make an arrest in fatal shootings than in non-fatal shootings, and arrests in fatal cases were more likely to be prosecuted, according to a new report detailing law enforcement responses to shootings in the City of Durham from 2017 to 2021.

Disparities Found in Police Response to Fatal and Non-Fatal Shootings in Durham

This disparity, which is found in most cities, can be attributed in part to the fact that police give higher priority to solving homicide cases than non-fatal shootings. As documented in the report, Durham police gathered more evidence of every sort in the fatal cases.

“Gun Violence in Durham, NC, 2017-2021: Investigation and Court Processing of Fatal and Non-Fatal Shootings,” provides insight into the investigations and outcomes of 1,011 shooting incidents that resulted in 1,188 victims, 160 of whom died of their injuries. Read the full report here.

Durham Chief of Police Patrice Andrews, who requested the analysis in December 2021, said the department is using the findings to help improve its arrest rate in non-fatal shootings.

Andrews said the department recently reorganized its Criminal Investigations Division, which includes changes that give higher priority to nonfatal shooting cases. “The research conducted in producing this report was essential in providing actionable data to help inform the decision-making process,” Andrews said.

The report released Feb. 27 was co-authored by Philip J. Cook, noted criminologist and Sanford School of Public Policy professor emeritus at Duke, and Audrey Vila, a data justice fellow with the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law School.
“Whether the victim lives or dies is largely a matter of chance. But the chance that the shooter is brought to justice depends on the investigation,” Cook said.

Researchers also examined court data to assess the outcome of shooting cases after an arrest was made and found that most -- 89% of fatal shootings and 70% of non-fatal shootings -- resulted in prosecution. However, because serious cases may take years to process in court, there has been no disposition yet in a large percentage of the fatal shootings, so it is difficult to determine what percentage will ultimately result in a conviction.

Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry praised the research for providing “important insight into a pressing issue in our community.”

“As my office continues working closely with law enforcement in shooting cases, we hope this report spurs ongoing collaboration and transparency, new innovations and a broader discussion about preventing these tragedies from occurring,” Deberry said.

“This report provides crucial insight into the outcomes of shootings in Durham,” said Angie Weis Gammell, policy director of the Wilson Center. “Analyzing five years’ worth of data through the life cycle of each case -- from investigation to arrest to and case outcome -- was an enormous task, but one of great value, as it can help guide policymakers in their efforts going forward.”

Gammell said she was optimistic about the changes the Durham Police Department had already made in response to the findings.

“Chief Andrews has taken the important step of identifying areas where the department can improve and help bring justice to more victims of gun violence,” Gammell said. “We applaud Durham Police Department for its transparency in releasing this data and look forward to partnering again to find more evidence-driven ways to reduce and resolve crime in our community.”