Durham News

Durham police probe calls for equity training, outside reviews

The advisory commission investigating alleged police racism thinks officers need more training in racial equity and crisis intervention, and the department needs to pay more attention to its employees’ own mental well-being.

Those were three of more than 50 measures the Human Relations Commission settled on Tuesday night to recommend to the City Council, chosen from dozens of ideas produced in five months of public hearings.

“A lot of things have been going on here that are out of control,” commission Chairman Ricky Hart said during the meeting. “That’s what the citizens have been saying.”

Mayor Bill Bell assigned the commission to look into the police department after it became the target of mounting public complaints in 2013. Those complaints involved three officer-involved shootings, alleged police violence and a University of North Carolina study that found a wide disparity between the numbers of white and black motorists stopped, searched and arrested in the city.

Stops and searches were the subject of several recommendations, including requiring officers to document the reasons for each stop and each search, making that information available to the public, and requiring written consent for searches.

The commissioners favor “an independent entity” to regularly review traffic-stop data to spot any “unusual trends” so the police administration can take remedial action.

“It needs to be ongoing … proactive,” said Commissioner Misty Odell. “If somebody were looking at (the data) now, we probably wouldn’t be here.”

They also favor mandatory psychological evaluations every three years for all police employees and a racial equity training program for all officers devised by the city in consultation with a “national independent training organization.”

The commission spent almost seven hours, in two meetings, selecting its recommendations. Previously, it had voted for a stronger civilian police review board with membership representative of the entire city and eliminating patrol officers’ ability to turn off their in-car video cameras.

Commissioners also say police need to do a better job of telling the public how officers are engaging with citizens aside from making patrols and arresting suspects.

Several commissioners have been appointed to draft a report for the commission’s review April 1, with a final version to be presented at the City Council work session April 10.