Some City Council members took issue last week with how a consultant’s study appeared to blame elected leaders for some community members’ concerns about the Durham Police Department.
The council discussed the 244-page International Association of Chiefs of Police report on Thursday. Councilman Charlie Reece and others questioned how the report described the council’s exploring concerns about racial disparities in traffic stops. The report says the council exerted a “a high level of oversight” over the Police Department.
“This level of oversight and the associated actions by government officials have contributed to a sense of distrust among these entities, which has also contributed to a deterioration of community confidence in the police department,” states the report by the IACP, which examined police staffing and deployment. “Many within the police department feel unappreciated and unfairly persecuted, and this has led to significant morale issues within the agency.”
Reece pointed to other sections of the report that referenced community policing challenges and two research studies that raised concerns about racial disparities in traffic stops in Durham, as well as a community coalition that asked the the city to change how police conduct traffic and drug enforcement.
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Under those circumstances, it was appropriate for the City Council to act, Reece said.
He wasn’t on the council at the time but was advocating for a change in policing, which included a directive for officers to start getting written consent when they conduct a search without probable cause that a crime has occurred.
“That to me is how it ought to work,” Reece said.
Mitchell Weintzetl, an IACP assistant director, said generally councils and mayors set overarching policies they expect city staff, such as the city manager, to follow and police to carry out.
Weintzetl went on to say that the consultants heard from the community about issues they had concerns about, “some of which, for example, didn’t prove to be true.”
Weintzetl said the two studies on racial disparities – which showed black and Latino drivers stopped and searched at higher rates than white drivers – “had material flaws.” But when the council held up the report as reason for change, he said, it gave validity to the community’s concerns.
City Council members disagreed that the reports were flawed.
Racial differences in traffic stops and searches were among the complaints that led Mayor Bill Bell to have a city advisory board look into police practices two years ago. After many public meetings, the city’s Human Relations Commission found that a pattern of racial bias and profiling existed within the department.
The council never forgot that the city manager, not the council, oversees the Police Department, Bell said Thursday.
“Obviously, there was enough conversation to get the city manager on board and the police department on board,” he said.
Former Police Chief Jose Lopez rebutted the profiling accusation, saying the higher number of black and Latino drivers stopped by police reflected high-crime areas where residents were asking police for help. Lopez, who led the department for eight years, retired last year after City Manager Tom Bonfield asked him to resign or be dismissed.
The intent of the consultant report’s wording, Weintzetl said, was to suggest a need to build more bridges and for police and council members to work more collaboratively.
The report recommends council members ride along with on-duty officers and participate in training scenarios so they have an idea of what police officers face. Officers should also spend some time with elected officials to to better understand the community’s perspective.
A work group should also be established to discuss issues and concerns, the report states.
Reece said the consultant’s description of the racial disparities as perceived undermines the report.
“As long as this report – you specifically or anyone else pushing these recommendations forward – continues to believe that, there will be a problem with people in the city accepting any of these recommendations,” Reece said.
Council members Don Moffitt and Jillian Johnson said they shared Reece’s concerns.
Councilman Eddie Davis pointed out that regardless of the use of the word perception, the report says the Police Department needs to acknowledge and address it. Bell’s comments echoed Davis.
City Councilman Steve Schewel said the City Council has an important role in rebuilding the relationship between elected leaders and police, but that doesn’t mean members should step back from making sure policing is non-discriminatory.
“But I think that our department needs to feel our support, know that we support them, that we are grateful for the work that they do every day,” he said.
Officers know that community policing is an organizational philosophy, but a lack of available time has been a “convenient and understandable excuse” for patrol personnel to conduct little if any of that work, according to the report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The IACP found no evidence of ongoing community policing training following a police academy requirement project for recruits to identify and implement a solution to a community-based problem.
Some officers also noted that command staff don’t attend Partners Against Crime meetings, and their communication with the community needs improvement. PACs are community-based volunteer groups that promote strategies to prevent crime at the neighborhood level. Each of the Police Department’s five police districts has a PAC organization that holds monthly meetings.
“The sentiment from the officers is that accountability for community policing from the top is not happening, and this is effectively sabotaging the community policing effort,” the report states.
The report recommended that the Police Department revitalize and reemphasize their commitment to community policing by communicating clear expectations, creating a strategic plan with short and long-term goals, and prioritizing non-criminal interaction with youth.
The Police Department needs to acknowledge and address the “public perceptions of racism and discriminatory policing” by providing a vision for future operations, emphasizing the great work of the majority of the officers, communicating change-management strategies, issuing business cards for officers to distribute, scheduling a press conference to acknowledge the issue of racism, articulating core values, and providing elements of a strategic plan going forward, the report states.
The report also recommends scheduling regular forums and meetings in which community members can interact with police, engage youth and others in in joint training and other activities, and establish a formal citizen advisory committees to assist in developing crime-prevention strategies.