Religious leaders stood outside the Durham Police Department on Tuesday and proposed measures they said could transform police and community relations in the Bull City.
“We are here to invite our 250,000 fellow citizens to literally re-imagine what policing in our city could look like,” said the Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton, a member of the Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (CAN) and senior pastor at Abundant Hope Christian Church.
Durham police-community relations have been strained in recent years amid officer-involved shootings and accusations of racial profiling.
Durham CAN works to build relationships with local policy makers and holds assemblies in which the group asks them to publicly commit to goals, such as increasing affordable housing.
Steps outlined Tuesday evening by leaders of various churches include the training and redeployment of the police force, incentives to encourage officers to live within the city and creating a social justice board that would advise top police officials and serve as community liaisons.
The gathering outside police headquarters on West Chapel Hill Street came the same day City Manager Tom Bonfield announced Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Cerelyn Davis will be Durham’s next chief.
Herbert Davis, senior pastor at Nehemiah Christian Center, asked that officers be retrained and redeployed based on community policing’s best practices that stress crisis intervention and relationship building.
“Clearly, an enforcement-only strategy does not benefit the community and contributes to the harboring of mistrust between citizens and those who are hired to protect and serve them,” Davis said.
The Rev. Tim Conder of the Emmaus Way Church said police forces whose officers live outside the community, coupled with the militarization of law enforcement, have resulted in departments that some see as “invading armies that do not share a common stake in the communities they protect.”
He called for the development of incentives, including affordable housing, to encourage a majority of Durham officers to live within the city.
Clarence Laney, bishop at Monument of Faith Church, called for a social justice task force to advise command staff and act as a community liaison during high-profile incidents.
Such a partnership would be critical during “the inevitable times of crisis and social upheaval that often occurs around questionable police practices, homicides and other violent crimes,” Laney said.
Father Chris VanHaight of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church called for ending road blocks and check points in Latino neighborhoods.
“This has instilled fear and intimidation of members of my congregation and others, who are afraid to even sometimes to come to church,” he said.
Durham CAN plans to meet with Davis, Bonfield and others to start a discussion about its recommendations.
“And hopefully also a conversation will be spurred amongst our fellow citizens across the city,” Middleton said.