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Police chief 'surprised' to find criminals in Durham

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DURHAM, N.C. -

Durham Police chief Jose Lopez used a news conference Friday to defend his city, saying he's shocked to find criminals in town.

"Durham is such a safe city that every time we find there are criminals here it is a surprise," Lopez said.

Lopez spoke with Secretary Kieran Shanahan of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety at a news conference to announce 132 arrests in a special joint operation between July 15-18. The effort, authorities said, was a coordinated effort between state and local authorities to remove criminals and probation absconders from the communities.

The comments by Lopez were a swipe at those who see Durham as a violent town. But the city's image has had some tough knocks, with many viewing it as more crime-ridden than its Triangle neighbors.

A Durham entrepreneur started making a T-shirt last month that poked fun at the city's image, saying, "I'd rather be shot in Durham than die of boredom in Cary."

And a report by the University of North Carolina's Daily Tar Heel in March caused a stir when it claimed that one-tenth of the crime in Chapel Hill over the past 10 years came from Durham residents coming into the town.

Back in March, however, Lopez told the Durham City Council that the city's overall crime rate in 2012 was at a 23-year-low.

According to state figures for 2011, Durham County had a crime rate per 100,000 of 5,528. Wake County's crime rate, by comparison, was 2,857, and Cumberland County had a rate of 6,620.

Lopez stood up for his city, and his department, Friday, saying those who did commit crimes would be apprehended.

"If you are an absconder, you might as well turn yourself in because we are going to find you," Lopez said.

The news conference covered the recent push in Durham in coordination with state authorities, and officials said 34 probation absconders were caught by authorities.

Overall, there were 136 new charges. Those includes 46 felony charges and 85 misdemeanor charges.

Police said 24 confirmed gang members were arrested.

Seized in the operation were eight firearms, $7,320 in cash and controlled substances that included oxycodone, methadone, percocet, powder cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin.

Shanahan said state officials have a strong relationship with Durham Police, one that was strengthened when the two sides worked together after the shooting of State Highway Patrolman Mike Potts.

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