Council gets dissent on police bias report

06/15/2014 12:00 AM

06/12/2014 1:35 PM

City Manager Tom Bonfield plans to give the City Council an update this week on his timetable for responding to the Human Relations Commission report on police racism.

Last week, the City Council got a dissenting opinion on that report from three of the commission’s members.

“Our reasons for dissent stem from our concerns that some recommendations may create more divisiveness within our community,” they wrote council members, Bonfield and their fellow commissioners.

Richard Ford and Missy Odell, who voted against approving the final commission report, and Jeffrey Clark, who abstained, disagreed with the majority that there was a basis for finding of “the existence of racial bias and profiling present in the Durham Police Department practices.”

Eleven commissioners voted to approve the report with that finding. The dissenters had no comment beyond their statement itself.

“I hope our report would speak for itself ,” Odell wrote in an email response to a query from The Durham News.

A statement of dissent had been anticipated for some time, and council members mentioned it as something they were interested in seeing after Commission Chairman Ricky Hart presented the full group’s report May 22 after the commission’s May 13 vote to approve it.

After the presentation, Bonfield said he would personally draw up a plan for the city to respond to the report’s recommendations. At Monday’s council meeting, he said, he is just “presenting information,” and he expects to spend most of his time working on the response while the council takes its five-week summer break from meetings.

Bonfield and Mayor Bill Bell said they had received the minority report but had not had chances to read it closely.

However, Ian Mance, an attorney at Southern Coalition for Social Justice, did respond when asked by The Durham News:

“The three dissenters acknowledge they’re speaking only in their individual capacity. The actual commission voted overwhelmingly that racial profiling in Durham is real and that it requires a robust response.

“What’s notable is that the dissenters don’t dispute the accuracy of the statistics (on which the finding was based) ... By urging the city to essentially ignore these statistics and to reject a written consent policy, the dissenters are signaling that they think these disparities are acceptable. We don’t.”

The Southern Coalition is one of several organizations that have endorsed the full Human Relations Commission report, among them Durham CAN, Durham People’s Alliance and the NAACP.

The statistics Mance cited, which were presented during the commission’s hearings, indicated that, after controlling for age, gender, time of day, and reason for stop, black motorists in Durham are 165 percent more likely than white to be searched during a routine traffic stop.

The department has acknowledged racial disparities in traffic stops and searches, and in drug-law enforcement, but says those disparities do not prove racial profiling or discrimination.

Commissioners inserted the statement affirming racial bias at the end of a three-hour special meeting April 29 at which they made final edits on the report and approved its more than specific recommendations. Clark, Ford and Odell voted against the insertion.

Until then, the draft report said that the commissioners lacked the expertise to determine whether bias and profiling were present in police practices.

The three dissenters also disagreed with some of the commission recommendations, including those to require written consent for traffic-stop searches, independent analysis of traffic-stop data and regular psychiatric evaluations of police personnel.

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