Durham police reports dispute racial profiling claims

jalexander@newsobserver.comNovember 13, 2013 

— The Durham Police Department released two reports Wednesday rebuffing some community members’ claims of racial profiling.

One report responds to allegations of profiling and bias-based policing in communities of color. The other responds to FADE (Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement), a community coalition that recommended policy changes in response to racial disparities in traffic stops, searches and arrests.

According to the N.C. Department of Justice, blacks made up 59 percent of the drivers stopped in Durham during the past five years, while making up 41 percent of the city’s population in the 2010 census. Whites accounted for 39 percent of the stops and 42 percent of the population.

In addition, a black motorist in Durham County is more than twice as likely as a white motorist to be searched after being stopped for speeding, according to a study by UNC political scientist Frank R. Baumgartner. The likelihood is even greater after being stopped for a seat-belt violation.

The Police Department does not question the accuracy of the data but says, without more analysis, the numbers alone don’t prove racial profiling.

“The Department’s current detractors have a right to their opinion,” one report states. “We respect and appreciate their desire to voice their opinion and we will be the first to defend that right. However, we respectfully submit that there have not been sufficient facts or evidence presented to us that would necessitate immediate wholesale changes to our current policies and practices.”

In a meeting with the city’s Human Relations Commission Tuesday night, Deputy Chief Anthony Marsh said it would be naive to say there are no individual officers who may engage in racial profiling. But there are people in every profession who make assumptions based on race, he said, and that does not reflect the department as a whole.

Consent forms

One of FADE’s recommendations asks that police get written consent before searching a vehicle.

The police say officers already have consent forms.

“It is employed at the discretion of each officer based upon the totality of the circumstances,” one report states. “Some officers employ it on traffic stop searches and some don’t. It any event, consent can always be denied with or without a form – it’s just that simple.”

The report states that of the 806 consent searches in the past seven years, 211 have resulted in drug seizures, 153 in money seizures and 41 in weapon seizures.

FADE’s other recommendations include

• making marijuana enforcement the department’s lowest priority,

• increasing the availability of pre-trial diversion programs,

• mandating racial equity training, and

• creating a task force of police, community board members and people “directly affected by police misconduct” to investigate Civilian Review Board best practices.

The reports notes that between 2004 and 2009, only five appeals of police misconduct claims were filed with the Durham Civilian Police Review Board. The board reviews cases if a complainant is not satisfied with an initial investigation by the department’s Professional Standards Division.

Critics say the low number points to a broken system. The department says otherwise.

“The fact that only five appeals were filed indicates that only five people were dissatisfied enough with the findings to take the personal responsibility and exercise their right to an appeal,” the report states.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service