Durham News

Durham police to issue citations for misdemeanor marijuana offenses

Police Chief C.J. Davis told City Council members Thursday that Police Department policy now requires officers to issue citations with certain misdemeanor marijuana and other offenses.

Another change also requires officers to send youth who qualify to the county’s misdemeanor diversion program when they are caught committing non-violent, first-time, misdemeanor offenses. Before it was left to the officer’s discretion.

“We looked at the general order so that we could ensure consistency in how the general order is applied,” Davis said.

The changes follow the Self-Help Credit Union and the Fostering Alternatives Drug Enforcement (FADE) Coalition pushing for the City Council to take formal action to make misdemeanor marijuana enforcement the police force’s lowest priority. In September, the council asked City Manager Tom Bonfield to sit down with Davis to discuss instructing officers to issue a warning or a citation instead of making an arrest for misdemeanor marijuana offenses.

The policy states that officers will use citations with misdemeanor charges when there is no danger to person or property, the suspect has valid identification and address, isn’t wanted on other charges and has no previous charges other than traffic citations.

In other business Thursday, City Council members discussed paying $1.4 million for 530 body cameras for police officers while dealing with a state law that limits disclosure of camera footage.

“I don’t believe that the people of this city want police-worn body cameras if they can’t be assured that the policy that governs their use, release and disclosure contains sufficient guarantees of accountability and transparency for the data that is captured,” Councilman Charlie Reece said.

Davis said she and others tried to create a policy that is as transparent as possible within the confines of the law.

“I think it is going to help guide the behavior of our officers if they know they are being recorded every day,” she said.

The state law, which went into effect Oct. 1, allows people who are recorded, or their representatives, to see footage if the police chief allows it.

If access is denied, the subject can seek a court order to see the video. A court order also is required for the general release of police camera footage.

Mayor Bill Bell and Councilman Eddie Davis said they support the purchase. Bell said the cameras will be an effective tool when people sue the city.

The police chief said the body camera policy is a work in progress, and she is willing to create a document on the Police Department’s website that shows the changes over time.

“We are trying to get it to a point that it is going to be at least deployable,” Davis said.

At the request of Reece and Councilman Steve Schewel, City Attorney Patrick Baker said he would reach out to Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson to establish a process when a court order is sought to review footage.

The general order relating to body-worn cameras requires officers to attach the cameras to their uniform on the torso at the beginning of the shift.

Officers must begin recording prior to any officer-initiated contact involving crimes, after being dispatched to calls for service, when engaging a person while investigating a crime and while searching people, personal property, vehicles and premises.

Officers should also turn on the cameras when they take statements from subjects, victims and witnesses and during encounters that become adversarial.

There may be situations that require immediate action, and officers won’t be able to turn on the camera. The officer “will activate the their body-worn camera at the first available opportunity after the immediate threat has been addressed,” the policy states.

If officers fail to activate their cameras, they have to document the failure in their report and email their supervisor about the circumstances.

Recording can’t stop until the situation has been stabilized or concluded, the policy states.

Situations where the recording can stop include at the request of a non-suspect, when it’s necessary to discuss a person’s mental or physical health and if rape victims decline to be recorded.

The City Council plans to vote on the purchase of body cameras at its 7 p.m. Nov. 21 meeting.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges