The Durham Police Department has suspended motor-vehicle checkpoints in response to growing fears among immigrants, Chief C.J. Davis announced Monday.
“DPD remains committed to addressing the concerns and expectations of all community members and therefore last week suspended department-initiated traffic checkpoints,” Davis said in a statement. “This was done to dispel fears that have currently arisen and to further encourage sustainable relationships with the diverse community we serve.”
The department will continue to participate in multi-agency highway safety campaigns, such as Booze It & Lose It and Click It or Ticket, Davis said.
Checkpoints are under scrutiny after a Durham County Sheriff’s Office traffic checkpoint Feb. 20 near the School for Creative Studies, which has a 22 percent Hispanic enrollment.
The sheriff’s office says it was responding to speeding complaints and that the checkpoint was 2.4 miles from the school. But El Centro Hispano (The Hispanic Center) and some school officials criticized the action, saying it happened on a Monday afternoon when parents may have been picking up their children.
“Considering that Immigration and Customs Enforcement have deported individuals for infractions as minor as license violations, this means that your officers’ actions are directly threatening the livelihoods of people who are residing and working in our community,” Brian Callaway, the coordinator of energy and sustainability at Durham Public Schools, wrote in an open letter to local law enforcement and school leaders.
The sheriff’s office stood by its practice Monday.
“The Sheriff’s Office is not suspending its law enforcement operational checkpoints,” spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs said, adding, “This goes without saying, but we want to reiterate that we do not conduct checkpoints in search of undocumented residents.”
In an interview, sheriff’s Maj. Paul Martin agreed.
“These comments about ICE, they’re totally ridiculous,” Martin said. “I get calls almost every day about traffic. People want us to do something to prevent possible accidents. ... We’re trying to help people in these communities.”
The Feb. 20 checkpoint was one of four the Durham County Sheriff’s Office held that day that led to a total of 14 verbal or written warnings and eight citations, Gibbs said.
But other law enforcement agencies have curtailed checkpoints. In Orange County, the sheriff’s office and the Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough police departments agreed, after hearing concerns last summer, not to hold checkpoints near schools when parents are dropping off and picking up children, Chief Deputy Jamie Sykes of the sheriff’s office said in an email.
In an interview, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison would not rule out holding a checkpoint near a school, but said, “I don’t know of one since I’ve been here.” Harrison has been sheriff since 2002.
The Durham Police Department, meanwhile, held 17 checkpoints in January, spokeswoman Kammie Michael said in an email. She did not differentiate between motor-vehicle and other types of checkpoints such as informational checkpoints that do not require presenting license and registration.
“When planned and executed appropriately, these operations are very effective,” said Davis, the chief. “However, in recent weeks there has been national and local concern regarding the role of local law enforcement officers in federal immigration enforcement. There has also been misinformation regarding the intent and purpose of DPD’s routine checkpoints, which have not been used for immigration enforcement.”
Motor vehicle checkpoints are controversial, Jeffrey Welty, an expert in criminal law and procedure, wrote in a 2010 UNC School of Government bulletin.
In North Carolina, state law allows motor vehicle checkpoints to detect impaired driving and other motor vehicle violations. Motor-vehicle checkpoints may not be used for general crime control, he wrote.
State law requires checkpoints be placed randomly or where “statistically indicated,” which Welty interpreted as meaning the law enforcement agency has reason to believe an area has “more problems than other locations ‘with unlicensed or unregistered drivers,’ impaired drivers or motor-vehicle violations in general.”
Raul Pinto, an immigration attorney at the N.C. Justice Center, said that has not kept some law enforcement agencies in North Carolina from setting up motor-vehicle checkpoints in majority-minority communities, like outside an apartment complex or mobile home park.
“I don’t think any court has defined what ‘statistically indicated’ means,” Pinto said.
License and registration
Officers have some discretion when a driver can’t produce a license or registration. People who can’t comply typically get a verbal or written warning – say, if the officer believes they have a license, just not with them – or a citation.
“By law the deputy can bring the driver without a license before a magistrate, but the agency tries to avoid that by asking for other forms of ID,” Gibbs said.
One form being used in Orange and Durham counties is the Faith ID, an unofficial alternative ID promoted by Durham-based El Centro Hispano after the state stopped accepting the matricula consular, a Mexican ID card that the FBI said was subject to fraud and forgery.
El Centro has enrolled about 1,800 people in the Faith ID program, which requires proof of identification and address, said director Pilar Rocha-Goldberg.
Even when drivers can’t comply, checkpoints rarely lead to immigration problems. The exception can occur when an officer arrests someone based on evidence of a crime or on a warrant.
Once a person is booked and fingerprinted, a set of prints is sent to the State Bureau of Investigation.
If the person is wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the system flags the fingerprints and a technician sends a notice of arrest to ICE, which can ask the jail to detain the person.
If no detainer is issued, the person may leave the jail on bond or on a magistrate or judge’s order. If a detainer is received, the person will remain in jail until his or her case is adjudicated, Gibbs said.
Once all charges are adjudicated, the arresting agency notifies ICE, which has 48 hours to take custody, after which the detainee is released, she said.
Schultz: 919-829-8950; thedurhamnews