Durham News

Durham police report: No ‘unexplainable’ racial disparities

A Durham Police Department review that shows officers stopped black drivers far more often than white drivers reflects “crime issues and geographic areas,” not racial profiling, Police Chief Jose Lopez said Monday.

The report, based on the first six months of 2015, found 61 percent of the drivers stopped were black and 36 percent where white. It attributes the numbers to policing in high-crime minority neighborhoods.

“When people look at (overall) disparities, they are looking at numbers that really don’t mix,” Lopez said. “You really have to look at the area in which you are working and what the numbers are in that area.”

The analysis, which notes similar disparities in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Fayetteville, looked at the 11,012 traffic stops in Durham through June. There were 10 percent fewer traffic stops than during the same period in 2014.

The Police Department’s Traffic Services Unit conducted 2,268 or 21 percent of the traffic stops. For those stops, the racial breakdown was 49 percent black and 47 percent white. About 41 percent of the city’s population is black.

“Examining this group of officers is useful, because they conduct the most traffic stops of any unit in the department due to the nature of their job, and the majority of those are for traffic violations throughout Durham,” the report states.

Those numbers do not reflect special assignments, such as targeted operations in high-crime areas.

The analysis also looked at officers who stopped 25 or more vehicles and had a 75 percent or higher stop rate of minorities. Of those 33 officers, all but 13 worked in either District 1 (62 percent black, 20 percent white and 20 percent white by race) or District 4 (54 percent black, 32 percent white and 10 percent Hispanic), which have the highest crime rates, the report states.

“Based upon the data analyzed, there was no evidence of unexplainable disparities regarding traffic stops among the officers,” the report states. “Rather, officers are stopping vehicles consistent with the demographics and crime statistics of their assigned areas.”

City Manager Tom Bonfield said the report does a better job of explaining the disparity than previous attempts, but it is still a “partial explanation.”

The numbers continue to be a a concern for Durham officials, Bonfield said, just as they are for other cities across the state.

“It continues to be something we are going to evaluate,” he said.

The analysis doesn’t address concerns that some community groups have expressed about a Police Department strategy of using traffic stops in high-crime areas versus focusing on higher-level criminals.

Complaints about bias prompted Mayor Bill Bell in September 2013 to direct the city’s Human Relations Commission to investigate. After months of hearings, the commission concluded in March 2015 that racial bias and profiling existed within the Police Department.

Lopez, who became chief in 2007 and is being forced to retire at the end of the year, has repeatedly said racial bias and profiling are not part of his department.

Lopez said that no matter how much information he provides, he isn’t going to sway some critics who “are going to believe what they are going to believe.”

“We are going above beyond in tracking and monitoring,” and addressing those concerns with training and other steps, he said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges