Contrary to what some might think, the review of the Human Relations Commission and the Civilian Police Review Board recommendations has been beneficial for Durham city government and the entire Durham community. It provided impetus for a valuable introspection that required asking difficult and sometimes sensitive questions, the review of processes and practices that had been taken for granted due to real or perceived lack of need, and the implementation of policies that reinforce accountability.
The incidents that occurred over the past year involving the loss of life were tragic, both for the families and the Police Department. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those involved. This review, well beyond the scope of these tragic events, revealed in no uncertain way that both the Police Department and the community have a common goal: A safer community. A safer community consistently ranks at the top of resident satisfaction surveys. To achieve that goal, it is vital that Durham has a Police Department that values and understands the need for trust, accountability and transparency. When any one of these three is not communicated well, by action or inaction, and is allowed to deteriorate, the goal is undermined to the detriment of the department and the public.
Throughout the review, my staff and I listened, not only to the public, which included six advocacy groups, but to the Police Department as well. They are a dedicated group of men and women whose top priority is to protect and serve our community. We also reached out to other communities and trade groups to ascertain best practices. While we learned more about each police department’s policies and practices, even more valuable was learning that Durham is not unique in the challenges that we face. What is unique in Durham, however, is how we handle them…openly, jointly, and in a way that moves us forward as community.
It was important to me that we thoroughly address each recommendation, which generally fell into categories of process and procedure, community relations and legal authority. Some recommendations were already being done by the Police Department, but needed heightened awareness. Others clearly indicated that we needed to do more work, especially use of information and data that has been collected to make management decisions to guide Police Department priorities. That will now happen and be codified in General Orders. Other recommendations will require City Council or legislative approval, some of which are being prepared for presentation in the coming months.
Racial disparities in law enforcement and the entire criminal justice system are complex issues. While my focus was on the recommendations with regard to Police Department practices, real change demands a coordinated approach and buy-in from the entire criminal justice system. The Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office and District Court must be on the same page. These agencies, all members of The Violent Crime Reduction Task Force and the Durham Crime Cabinet, will need to continue to collaborate to address issues that affect the future of so many people.
Trust, accountability and transparency are the hallmark values of a harmonious police/community relationship. The city’s desire is that this review, posted on the City Manager’s page at www.Durhamnc.gov, moves us forward as a community and signals the repairing and re-building of a trusting relationship between the Police Department and all segments of the Durham community. As we move forward, I am committed to continuing a transparent spotlight on our progress by posting our progress on the recommendations on the city website. I truly believe that if there is any community in the country that can find solutions to these complex issues, it is Durham!
Tom Bonfield is Durham’s city manager.