Durham News

Durham’s Police Chief talks about racial disparities, marijuana, traffic stops

Durham’s new police chief meets the media

VIDEO: Cerelyn “CJ” Davis speaks about her goals as the new top cop in the Bull City
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VIDEO: Cerelyn “CJ” Davis speaks about her goals as the new top cop in the Bull City

New Police Chief C.J. Davis took over the Durham Police Department amid public criticism over racial disparities in traffic stops, misdemeanor marijuana enforcement and practices of the High Enforcement Abatement Teams, commonly known as the HEAT team.

Here are Davis’ responses to questions about some of those and other issues.

Q: There has been a lot of discussion about racial disparities, racial bias at the Police Department. Do you think there is a problem, and what are you doing to address the concerns?

Davis: Any allegation of racial disparities or bias is taken with great concern. I have begun evaluating the manner in which the department deploys resources to ensure that we address crime trends without targeting whole communities in the process, particularly communities of color. Maintaining systems that provide checks and balances internally will serve as a means to audit enforcement activities, and quickly address signs of disparate practices. The department is currently improving our ability to collect accurate “stop data” to ultimately share with the public for greater transparency.

Q: At a recent forum you said you would consider ending traffic stops for minor offenses such as a broken taillight or tinted windows. Have you issued any directive to officers about traffic stops?

Davis: We are coaching and training our officers to make prudent decisions regarding enforcing minor traffic offenses. The department will focus its traffic enforcement in areas where traffic offenses have been reported by citizens and supported by data to justify the need for increased police presence, i.e. motorists speeding, influx of vehicle crashes, school zone violations, auto theft recovery points, etc. Minor offenses that present a clear and obvious danger to the public can be addressed with simple warnings when appropriate, i.e. Driving without headlights on a dark street ... clearly presents a hazard for other motorists.

I have begun evaluating the manner in which the department deploys resources to ensure that we address crime trends without targeting whole communities in the process, particularly communities of color.

Police Chief C.J. Davis

Q: What is your response to the City Council’s recent request to only issue citations for misdemeanor marijuana possession?

Davis: The Misdemeanor Diversion Program supported by DPD is a very effective program for persons 16-21 who are found in possession of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana. Many of Durham’s young people, who meet the criteria have been recommended to the program by DPD officers. In recent months, citations were issued in most all cases of misdemeanor possession where the individual did not meet the MDP criteria. Citations will be issued for these offenses if there are no new accompanying charges, if the person has valid ID and there is no active warrants for arrest.

Q: Some community members and leaders have expressed concern about the HEAT team. What are you plans for the HEAT team?

Davis: Because the department is currently short staffed in the field, we have required HEAT officers to answer calls for service in areas where there is an increase in call volume and surges in crime, thereby supporting the patrol operation as a priority.

The department is currently examining the overall effectiveness of all its personnel resources, whereby several operational units will be impacted during an upcoming reallocation of manpower towards areas of demand. Such as, standing up a Robbery Unit, Gang & Gun Unit, and expanding the Community Services Division to better serve our youth.

Q: What about the Police Department’s knock and talk practice to follow up on previous arrests?

Davis: When the technique was developed, knock and talks were intended to be a non-confrontational method to gather intelligence information about a recent crime, such as homicides or robberies from members of the impacted community. The DPD will ensure these type neighborhood canvasses are applied in the manner in which they were intended, as we value community relationships built on trust.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

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