City Council, manager get Durham police-bias report

jwise@newsobserver.comMay 23, 2014 

— Summarizing its months-long inquiry, the Human Relations Commission told the City Council on Thursday that some Durham police engage in racial bias and profiling.

The council turned over the commission’s report, with its recommendations, to City Manager Tom Bonfield to draft a plan of response by late July for the council’s consideration,

“Trust me, (the report) is not going to be sitting on some table gathering dust,” said Mayor Bill Bell.

“This is not something I am going to turn over to other staff or turn over to the Police Department,” Bonfield said. “I want to assure the public and assure the council ... I will be personally responsible for shepherding this.”

Council members also said they want to see a minority opinion from those commissioners who disagreed with parts of the full commission report.

Research questioned

In an email to the council, three dissenting members criticized “the lack of any research by the commission on racial profiling beyond receiving the presentations of the advocacy groups (and) … the failure of the commission to subject the statistical data presented to review by any qualified statisticians or experts.”

After the commission presentation, council members and several citizens who spoke praised the police force while acknowledging some problems.

“We have one of the best police departments in the country,” Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden told an overflow City Hall crowd. “But even among the best of us, sometimes the worst will surface.”

“I’m glad we have so many officers here,” said Councilman Steve Schewel. “We need your buy-in and your leadership if we are going to succeed.”

6 public hearings

Bell assigned the Human Relations Commission to investigate police behavior and policies, and make recommendations, after three fatal officer-involved shootings, citizen complaints of discrimination and profiling, and statistical evidence to support the allegations, last fall.

The commission began work in October, holding six public hearings and four meetings to draft its report.

The commission’s conclusion – “Given our research, supported by testimony from Durham citizens, we found the existence of racial bias and profiling present in the Durham Police Department practices” – has been public for several weeks. Thursday’s work session was the first time for council members to respond to its recommendations.

Among them:

•  Begin a racial equity training program for officers, created and implemented by the Police Department in collaboration with a “national independent training organization” approved by the city manager and the City Council.

•  Require psychiatric evaluations for all police employees at least once every three years.

•  Obtain written permission for consent searches during police stops, with the driver’s signature on a form required before a search may be done.

•  Have police, in partnership with agencies such as the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Fostering Alternatives for Drug Enforcement, promote “a comprehensive program” to educate citizens on their rights in regard to police stops and searches.

•  Give the city’s Civilian Police Review Board authority to investigate citizen complaints, instead of, as at present, just review police internal affairs handling of those complaints.

“I think that this issue and its successful resolution is the highest priority in our community,” Schewel said. “This is what we ought to spend our time getting right right now .”

‘Brand management’

Before the council session, the Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement Coalition held a news conference outside City Hall.

Mark-Anthony Middleton, a minister speaking for Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods, said police racism is a “theological issue” but also a “brand-management issue.”

Durham has much going for it, Middleton said, but all good things are “eclipsed” if all residents cannot “enjoy fair and just treatment from our law enforcement.”

Other supporters included the Durham People’s Alliance, the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, the NAACP and the George H. White Bar Association.

Four of FADE’s own recommendations correspond with the commission report. However, the commission report did not recommend FADE’s fifth point, designating marijuana the city’s lowest law-enforcement priority.

The commission did recommend that Durham study other cities’ experiences with de-emphasizing marijuana.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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