Durham police chief responds to criticism that department was too slow with crime notifications

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Durham City Council members questioned the police chief Thursday for failing to notify neighbors of a crime spree in a timely manner.

Police Chief Cerelyn Davis admitted earlier this month that people weren’t properly informed about a series of incidents where a man forced families to take him to ATMs and stores. Investigators arrested Rollin Owens in June and charged him with kidnapping and robbery. Police said Rollins took several families at gunpoint and made them drive him to money machines to make withdrawals and stores to buy him items.

Chief Davis told council members during a Thursday work session that part of the problem with alerting neighbors stemmed from the timing of the first three incidents, which happened during a weekend.

“Should there have been some communication on an initial event, to send out to say that we had a crime spree? At the time, it was not a crime spree,” Davis said.

“Until we realized this was a very similar incident to what occurred Saturday, two Sunday. They began to look at these reports, and they came in on that Monday morning and began talking about the similarities in these particular instances,” she said. “Where I think we could have done better is at the time we realized that there were commonalities in these events, information should have gone out to individuals to say that these cases could have been related.”

Davis said this is a learning experience for her staff, which she said has a lot of new supervisors and watch commanders. She said they have evaluated their processes and looked at their general communication.

Some neighbors told CBS North Carolina after Owens’s arrest that they tried to warn police about Owens before the first reported kidnapping. The neighbors said they gave officers a good description but did not see police take action.

The chief said investigators need to be careful when putting out descriptions of suspects. Davis said they want to have verified, concrete information which is also specific. She said statements involving alerts must be meticulously critiqued as a single word or wording can make a big difference.

“We had a recent press release about some other individuals that were missing. Because we couldn’t put out the whole story, and we did need to get some information from the public to help us, it gave the impression that we had a scenario that was much more serious than it was,” she said.

“We had some hunches but we needed some assistance to confirm what we were already feeling about that incident. It’s on a case by case basis, and we don’t always get it right, but we will continue to work to make sure that we get communication out in a timely fashion and use those mechanisms that are available. We’re really trying hard to get our folks to better utilize social media.”

Durham Police issued an alert June 26 about two missing boys who were first reported missing on July 21. Officers said they did not immediately make public the missing persons case as investigators believed the children were with a relative. Police found the boys with that relative within a few hours of issuing the alert.

Neighbors of the boys expressed concern about the five day delay in asking for help finding the boys. Police said they issued the alert Wednesday at the request of the children’s guardian, after investigators spoke with other family members.


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