Durham News

New report shows traffic-stop disparities, but offers reasons

Police made 25,630 traffic stops in 2013, 60 percent involving black drivers and 37 percent involving white. Seven percent of the black motorists stopped were searched; 1 percent of the white.

Officers of the Durham Police Department’s traffic services unit, primarily looking for speeders and impaired drivers, made 5,262 of the stops. Their figures were 45 percent black, 40 percent white, the rest Asian, native American and “other.”

Those figures are from a “2013 Bias Based Policing Traffic Report” compiled for City Manager Tom Bonfield. An executive review is at bit.ly/1xdvOAH.

Bonfield was not surprised by the numbers.

“It’s kind of old news,” he said, nothing that “we hadn’t already kind of known when we went through our discussions with the Human Relations Commission, and, certainly, our evaluation.

“Do we like what’s there? No. That’s why we’re doing many of the things we’re doing to try to get a better handle on that,” he said.

Similar reports are due from Durham police every six months, in one of the measures the city has begun to address alleged racial profiling.

The police report acknowledges racial disparity, but, in an accompanying memo, Police Chief Jose L. Lopez says the data is “consistent with the demographics and crime statistics of (officers’) assignments” rather than racial bias.

The department reviewed data for each officer and found 27 who made at least 25 traffic stops with a minority-motorist rate of 80 percent or more. All but five of those officers were working in Districts 1 or 4, which have the highest crime rates among the city’s five police districts and the highest minority populations.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city’s population is 43 percent white, 41 percent black. Forty percent of 2013 traffic stops, according to the report, were made in a 7.28-square mile “density zone” – 6.7 percent of the city’s total area, 108.6 square miles.

In the density zone, covering most of Northeast Central Durham and a section of northern Durham, the population is 61 percent black. In 2013, 29 percent of the city’s reported crimes occurred there, and 31.3 percent of the 911 calls for service, according to the report.

“Is there a disparity? Yeah,” Bonfield said, “but to what extent you can say it’s justified based on location and those kinds of things – it becomes somewhat of a subjective evaluation.”

The report also notes that, of those white motorists who were stopped, 50 percent got tickets; black motorists, 40 percent. In comparison with other North Carolina cities, though, Durham’s traffic-stop and search disparities stand out.

•  In Fayetteville, for example, 39 percent of 2013 stops involved white drivers, 58 percent black; 1 percent of the whites were searched, 5 percent of the black. Fayetteville’s population is 46 percent white, 42 percent black.

•  In Greensboro, whites accounted for 42 percent of the stops, blacks 55 percent; 2 percent of whites were searched, 4 percent of blacks. Greensboro’s population is 48 percent white, 41 percent black.

•  In Winston-Salem, 52 percent of stops were of white motorists, 46 percent of black; 1 percent of whites were searched, 2 percent of blacks. Winston-Salem’s population is 51 percent white, 35 percent black.

“We see clearly that disparities exist (in Durham), that’s consistent with what we had already discovered. But that’s the beginning of the process for us to be transparent about facts,” Bonfield said.

Lopez said his department has begun collecting more detailed data on traffic-stop locations and searches conducted with drivers’ and passengers’ consent. Responding to the racial disparities, the city administration now requires police to get signed permission before conducting consent searches, a measure expected to reduce the racial disparity in stops and searches.

“Hopefully as we (get) additional traffic-stop data and these new reporting details we’ll be able to delve down further,” Bonfield said.

“I think there will be people who will say, ‘See, I told you there was profiling.’ ... I don’t think there’s enough information to prove it one way or the other.”