DURHAM — The Durham Police Department says two-thirds or more of the people it arrests are black because two-thirds or more of the suspect described by witnesses or victims are black.
Police Chief Jose Lopez and Deputy Chief Anthony Marsh took the floor for the second straight month in Tuesday night’s Human Relations Commission meeting on racial profiling complaints.
In November, Marsh said racial profiling was not a practice of the Durham police, despite racial disparities in citywide traffic stops, searches and arrests. He called profiling accusations inaccurate and inappropriate.
The commission, however, asked the department to bring back the answers to a few more questions. Members wanted to know the racial breakdown of those arrested in each of the city’s police districts over a year.
According to statistics submittedTuesday night, 80 percent of those arrested in District 1 were black, 69 percent in District 2, 65 percent in District 3, 87 percent in District 4, and 79 percent in District 5.
The same went for suspect descriptions.
In District 1, 80 percent of the suspects were described as black, 68 percent in District two, 65 percent in District 3, 84 percent in District 4, and 75 percent in District 5.
Commission Chairman Ricky Hart said those numbers are alarming.
“Looking at the arrest data alone would imply we’re going around arresting black people,” said Marsh, who is black. “We’re just following the evidence and information where it leads us.”
Marsh said the victim and witness calls are leading police to suspects who are black.
“When I take this uniform off, I’m just another black man,” he added. “That’s just as disturbing to me as it is to anybody else.”
Marsh again pointed to the lack of formal complaints against the department in the past five years.
Commissioner Misty Odell suggested that could be because citizens don’t have faith in the police investigating their complaints.
Police Chief Jose Lopez disagreed. He said most of the complaints about police followup come from parents, who tend to get the story wrong.
“I think that a lot of the individuals in this city know that they can complain and it will get investigated,” Lopez said. “I don’t have any patience for police officers who can’t be respectful and that was pretty clear when I got here. We have no problem arresting our own. But maybe, just maybe, (there are) not that many complaints.”
Lopez and Marsh said they are battling a bad perception of the police, but the department is working on it.
“It’s not as easy as people believe,” Lopez said. “Once this issue is resolved, hopefully we can move on.”
Critics speak next
FADE (Fostering Alternatives for Drug Enforcement), a community coalition, wrote a letter to commission expressing their disappointment in not being granted an opportunity to present and respond to the Police Department in Tuesday night’s meeting.
As a result, after the meeting the commission said it would grant FADE, the NAACP, and Southern Coalition for Social Justice the opportunity to do separate presentations of their own at a later date.
“We only ask that HRC consider what the numbers show,” FADE said in the letter to the commission, “that thousands of innocent people in Durham, people carrying no contraband whatsoever – the overwhelming majority of them African-American – have been and continue to be subjected to warrant-less, invasive, and at times abusive, search practices at a rate that far exceeds the statewide averages.”
The letter continued to say, “Filing a complaint exposes the complainant to scrutiny from the very department that victimized them in the first place and offers very little in the way of benefit to the complainant, even in the event the department believes them.
“Under the current policy, to remain silent is to, in effect, validate this same behavior and provide cover for future bad acts; but to speak up is to put oneself at risk of further mistreatment,” the letter said.
The department has also been under fire in recent months for officer-related shootings.
Most recently, Jesus Huerta, a Riverside High School student, was found shot dead in the back of a police car on Nov. 19. Police have not explained how he was shot. Huerta was being charged with second-degree trespassing and was sitting in the back of the police car when he was fatally wounded.
Lopez has said only that it did not appear the officer, Samuel A.M. Duncan, fired a weapon. He said no further information will be released until the State Bureau of Investigation has completed its probe of the incident.
The SBI also is investigating two other deaths involving Durham police officers.
• On July 27, Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, 33, was fatally shot by officer R.S. Mbuthia after Mbuthia and other officers told him to drop a kitchen knife he held. Witnesses later said Ocampo, a suspect in a non-fatal stabbing, was holding the knife out, handle first, to an officer when he was shot four times.
• On Sept. 17, Derek Deandre Walker, 26, was fatally shot by Cpl. R.C. Swartz when Walker pointed a gun at officers after an hour-long standoff at CCB Plaza in downtown. During the standoff, hostage negotiators had talked to Walker, who was distraught over losing a custody battle over his young son.