Crime in The Bull City

Durham police car

by Jay on September 6, 2011

Homer’s take on Crime in Durham

I usually run into Homer in Home Depot where he has had a part time job for several years now. But this time I saw him in the buffet line at the Hope Valley Country Club where the monthly luncheon meeting of the Durham Regional Association of Realtors was being held.

“Whoa” I said in greeting him, “I’m not used to seeing you without the Orange Apron anymore. You look so normal today.”

“Yeah, I fit right in at the country club, don’t ya think?”

“Well maybe” I joked “but you’re too old to be a server and too young to be a member.”

Since both of us operate independently, we aren’t gathered to a table with colleagues from our office, so we picked a table near the back of the room and continued catching up.

“So,” I asked, “not working today?”

“No, summertime is slow so they cut part time people’s hours back. I’m only scheduled for about 15 hours a week recently.”

“Ouch, that must make it tough.”

“No, not really. I’ve actually thought about quitting.  Believe it or not I’m starting to have a pretty good year in real estate. Got a little saved up and would like to concentrate on some marketing to drum up more business.”

“Congratulations! Why don’t you?” I asked.

I could see Homer was thinking.  He took a bite of the salad he had put on his plate and finally answered. “Some of it’s just inertia. Some of it’s just caution. But I also like a lot of the people I work with.  Fifteen hours a week works fine for me right now.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. It can get a little lonely working by yourself. I envy you in a way.”

“It’s also made me a little less of an introvert which has always held me back in real estate a bit.”

“I’ve never thought of you as an introvert.”

“Well, the many times I’ve taken Myers-Briggs, I’m always just over the line into introversion. It’s not crippling but I’m certainly not one of those people that craves interaction with others.  It’s not the profile you want if you’re hiring salespeople either. A little push and I could be a hermit.”

“A little push?”

“Yeah. Sometimes I get an overwhelming sense that most people are just rotten and I don’t want anything to do with them.”

“Whoa! ” I said for the second time that day. “That’s a little harsh. What are you talking about?”

He had shoved a piece of beef in his mouth that was as tender as shoe leather and had to chew it thoughtfully before he could answer.

“Look at us. We’re in a professional organization that has to dress guys up in drag to try to raise money for lobbying.”

“I’m glad you said that. I was wondering if I was the only one who felt that way.”

“Don’t get me started about lobbyists. We’re against special interest groups except for our interests. But that’s not what’s got me really bummed out now.”

“Okay,” I said as he pushed his plate away, mostly uneaten, “what’s on your mind.”


“Yeah. Crime in Durham has been a problem but things are getting better and we’re no worse than other communities around here.”

“That’s what’s got me bummed out. Our expectations are so low.”

For a minute I thought he was going to go into a tirade about gang activity or the availability of weapons or police pay, but that’s not what he had in mind.

“You know my gig at HD is the first real retail job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of jobs.”

I’d forgotten that…if I ever knew…but I nodded and he continued.

“I been totally amazed about how much stuff gets stolen. There are organized rings that go after things they can easily fence like Dyson vacuum cleaners and expensive tools but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s the little things. In plumbing we have a lot of little things. And it’s not professional thieves. I explained this to a woman who was buying a faucet as I checked to make sure the one she was getting had all the pieces.  Her reaction was ‘no class, no class.’ I thought that was well put. No class and no shame.”

Homer is pretty easy going so I was surprised to see him get this passionate about something.

“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “You know the plastic nuts and slip washers that keep the pipes under your sinks from leaking?”

I was very familiar having recently replaced a faucet in a bathroom. “Yeah.” I said.

“I’d guess that about a quarter to a third of them are stolen right off the plastic pipes.”

“That must add up,” I said, trying to be supportive.

He frowned at me like I didn’t get it and went on.

“Not really. The real cost is the inconvenience. If you had gotten home and tried to install one of those pipes you would have had a leak and would have had to come back. The lack of consideration is a lack of class. What really bugs me though is that the store treats this as a fact of life, a cost of business and if “shrinkage” stays below a certain percentage…no worries.”

We were whispering now. Our candidate for drag queen was making an impassioned plea for PAC money. A poster of him in an evening gown and blond wig showed that when he put on a dress he would be the best looking woman in the room.

“What’s this got to do with crime in Durham?” I asked, “This kind of petty crime is everywhere”

“Tell you what,” he said, “when I get home I’m going to send you a link to a video of Chief Lopez giving a report to city council on crime statistics. The video is about 30 minutes long but the first 6 minutes are the chief’s report. I know the Chief from Rotary. He’s a pretty good guy and I think he’s doing a good job. But the job is to manage the numbers. You don’t get any feel for the violation, the hurt, the damage to lives, even the monetary loss from crime.”

“What kind of police force do you want?” I asked, starting to wonder where this conversation was going.

He looked at me seriously and said, “Just like Andy and Barney in Mayberry, where all you need to meet the threat is one bullet in your shirt pocket.”

The twenty-third person was approaching the podium to make an announcement no one cared about. Homer took the opportunity to push his untouched desert over to me, drop his napkin on the table and push himself up. “I gotta go.” he said and left by the door behind us.

Depressed myself now, I pushed the desert away and zoned out as the speakers droned on. Homer was obviously having a bad day and mine wasn’t getting any better.

Here’s the video he sent me.



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