Durham manager’s police report draws quick complaint

08/19/2014 8:01 PM

08/19/2014 8:02 PM

City Manager Tom Bonfield’s response to the Human Relations Commission recommendations for dealing with Durham police behavior that some residents think is racist is “a step in the right direction,” but it “will not change” frustrations over racial disparities in law enforcement, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the FADE Coalition.

Bonfield posted his report, and proposals based on it, on the city website

Monday. He will make a formal presentation at the City Council’s Thursday work session.

“I want to give people an opportunity to speak to the report and take that into consideration before we make the final decision” whether to adopt Bonfield’s proposals in total, in part, with modifications “or what have you,” Mayor Bill Bell said about the 131-page document.

Police Chief Jose L. Lopez said Tuesday he would wait to discuss Bonfield’s review until after the work session.

Last fall, Bell directed the citizen-composed Human Relations Commission to investigate allegations of racial profiling and other actions by Durham police perceived as racist. The commission responded with public hearings over a six-month period and in May submitted 34 recommendations and the conclusion that “racial bias and profiling (are) present in the Durham Police Department practices.”

Bonfield’s report responds in detail to each of the commission recommendations, and to 10 resulting from a self-review by the Civilian Police Review Board.

FADE, which advocates for alternative drug enforcement, particularly criticized Bonfield for not endorsing “an across-the-board mandatory written consent-to-search policy,” as it and the Human Relations Commission recommended.

In his response, Bonfield wrote that Durham police will begin requiring written consent for all consent searches of “premises, dwellings and other real properties” and all “investigative encounters,” but, while officers are “encouraged to employ the written consent form” in vehicle stops, the decision whether or not is left to the officer’s discretion.

“The policy changes relating to home and premises searches are positive developments,” FADE’s statement said, “but they will not impact most citizen-police interactions, which occur in the context of vehicle stops.”

FADE and the other advocacy groups, including Durham Congregations in Action and the North Carolina ACLU, have called for the city to “designate marijuana enforcement the city’s lowest law enforcement priority,” as arrest records show a wide racial disparity.

The Human Relations Commission considered that position but did not include it. In his executive summary, Bonfield called misdemeanor marijuana arrests a matter of “particular concern” and wrote that there is a clear need for “more thorough analysis of circumstances associated with those arrests.”

FADE, though, found nothing in the city response “to stop the ongoing racial discrimination in drug enforcement.”

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