The city manager is asking for input, and some community members are pushing for dramatic change in the city’s search for its next police chief.
“We have an opportunity to really change the culture of our police in a way that’s very radical. If we settle for anything less, we are doing ourselves a great disservice,” said attorney Scott Holmes, a member of the Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement, or FADE, coalition.
The city has released an online survey for Durham residents to give feedback on the search process. That prompted Marcia Owens, director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham, to invite Holmes and two other FADE members to speak at the group’s monthly lunch Thursday. Over 60 people attended.
“We wanted to hear from people in FADE so we could be informed before taking the survey,” Owens said. “We know how things shift according to the leadership that we have. The leadership of the police department matters.”
The FADE representatives highlighted several priorities including written consent for searches, racial equity training and restricting the use of tasers.
But at the core of this list was an underlying concern about the culture of the police department.
“You can change police chiefs, bring him in from the moon - if they have the same mindset it makes no difference,” FADE member Rafiq Zaid said.
“The next police chief must understand that the war on drugs must end,” Holmes said. “How radical it would be if police officers engaged in mediation, if they recognized mental health issues and helped people get treatment.”
According to FADE member Camryn Smith, this change in culture is “feasible if we can reimagine a new future and city officials can admit to their own biases and fears.” She pointed to Seattle as a model for improvement.
Tammy Rodman, a member of the Religious Coalition, emphasized that the new chief would be “hired by the community, a servant of the community.” Some police chiefs forget that, she said.
Owens believes the survey represents an increased commitment to building trust within the community. “It’s very encouraging that there is a survey, that the city manager is opening his office to the opinions of Durham residents,” Owens said.
“They’re really trying to listen,” Rodman said.
The city has narrowed the search from 42 to 14 applicants and hopes make a final decision in early April. The new chief would start in May.
“He’s going to have his job cut out for him,” Rodman said.
The 14 remaining applicants were to undergo a more extensive screening process, including a telephone interview and writing exercise. Based on those responses, a smaller number of candidates were to be selected to participate in an assessment center, scheduled for Feb. 29-March 1. Once the results of the assessment center are determined, the top two or three finalists will be scheduled to meet with police department staff and with the public in late March. The city is still on track with the recruitment process and the timeline as previously announced with the goal of having the position offered by early April, and the selected candidate starting in May