At a recent press briefing discussing a new internal report and alleged bias in the Durham Police Department’s handling of minority drivers, especially African-American males, Police Chief Jose Lopez said: “I really can’t answer to what other people are thinking. It’s open to individuals what they think.”
OK, so here’s what I think. I think, as is not infrequently the case with Lopez’s public comments on crime and crime-fighting in the city of Durham, it might sometimes be better for him not to say something than to say something.
Sure, Chief Lopez used to get criticized a while back when he seemed to go into bunker mode too often. But, seriously, that may be better for him.
A recent and different report from the federal Office of Justice Programs certainly indicated we’ve got a whole range of serious challenges with gun crime involving black people and how the community and police are dealing with it in Durham.
The real problem, no doubt, is the criminals. They do the deeds. And so many of them are multiple-time offenders. They can’t stop hurting people or themselves or both.
I am in agreement when Chief Lopez says crime rates and types of crime (and who commits them) are the result of many factors besides the police response to all of that.
The criminals are the bad guys, pure and simple. However, as relates to the DPD, its job is public safety. To respond. And Jose Lopez is the leader.
The chief’s recent public discussion trying in part to address or rebut claims of racial bias raises more questions than answers about that very issue: police department response. The presentation was based on that DPD-compiled report.
Bias or no bias? Not necessarily open and intentional bias but, perhaps, bias beneath the surface.
First, I understand that if there are more patrols in high-crime areas, and those areas happen to include many more African-Americans, then it makes sense that there would be a disproportionate number of police stops of African-Americans.
The numbers given on stops in 2014 were: nearly 60 percent African-American, even though blacks make up about 40 percent of Durham’s population.
Stops, however, are only a gateway to the issue of potential bias. The next and most critical question is: why are folks actually then searched at such a disproportionate rate, black versus white?
The very numbers that Lopez and his team used to publicly rebut claims of bias are not comforting numbers.
According to the N&O, the report shows “7.72 percent of black drivers were searched, compared to 4.55 percent of Latino drivers and 2.65 percent of white drivers.”
Let’s crunch those numbers. They show that blacks are three times more likely to be searched than whites. Three times.
Does Chief Lopez or his front office have a good answer for that? The chief said, “There may be disparities, but the bias isn’t there.”
OK, that’s his opinion. But then he should go on to explain the “disparity” of blacks being three times more likely to be searched than whites, when stopped. It’s a strong fact with something behind it. Right?
Is it because officers more often see a gun, see some drugs, see some other sign of a crime possibly being committed or something that is putting the public in immediate in danger?
New police spokesperson Wil Glenn was quoted on the issue, saying, “The important distinction here is that no matter your race, the chances of being stopped in Durham are low.”
No, that’s not an important distinction at all. And “low” compared to what and where – and for whom?
The important issue is what accounts for black drivers being searched so much more often, when pulled over. I just haven’t heard anything that adequately explains the statistic of triple the rate for black motorists.
When white motorists are pulled over, there must be a reason, right? Are they mostly about a taillight out or a missed blinker or, well, what?
I believe there are a lot of people, especially Durham’s African-American residents in general, who are interested a defensible explanation on the 2014 figures. Maybe it’s there in the numbers somewhere, hidden from easy view. I read the report. Didn’t see it.
For now, the case arguing against bias has not been made. If anything, the recent DPD report makes the case for it.
Maybe the chief’s next try will turn up something new.
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-219-0042.