Durham Human Relations Commission to look into police profiling complaints

jalexander@newsobserver.comOctober 21, 2013 

  • About the commission

    Human Relations Commission members are appointed by the City Council. The commission is composed of 15 Durham residents: six blacks, six whites, and three members of other racial minority groups. Among its duties, the commission provides a public forum for hearing complaints involving racial tension, bringing together the parties involved to discuss the facts and assisting in the resolution of such complaints. The commission meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month in the third floor conference room at Golden Belt Office Center, Building 2, 807 E. Main St.

The city’s Human Relations Commission agreed to look into the claims of racial discrimination by the Durham Police Department during a special meeting last week.

All members agreed it should be a priority to research the complaints and find out how the Police Department operates. The top three concerns highlighted were racial discrimination in traffic stops, learning about the department’s training and determining whether the citizens review board could do more, said Deputy City Manager Keith Chadwell.

“After having the material of people who made the complaints, the committee is going to begin to figure out what path to take before making a recommendation to the City Council,” Chadwell said. “They are not going to do any of that, however, until they find out about how the police go about their business.”

The process could take months, he said.

“It’s driven by the commission,” Chadwell said. “They are volunteers. It is not a staff-driven process. It impacts the timetable as well.”

Last month’s commission meeting saw many community members speak out against the department.

Some cited numbers showing racial disparities in traffic-stop searches, drug arrests and convictions, and police response to calls for help. Others told stories of beatings, groundless arrests and ignored complaints.

Several speakers talked about the fatal police shooting of Derek Deandre Walker on Sept. 17.

Walker was shot when he pointed a gun at officers during a standoff at CCB Plaza downtown. Walker, who was distraught, had recently lost a drawn-out custody battle for his young son.

In recent weeks, Police Chief Jose Lopez has referred questions on the profiling complaints to department spokeswoman Kammie Michael.

“The Durham Police Department delivers police services in the same manner to all our citizens with no consideration of race, ethnicity gender, etc.,” Michael said in an email last month. “Based upon identified needs from citizen complaints and crime data, we often deploy additional resources in a targeted manner to address crime and quality of life issues as they present themselves.”

“Additionally, our department has a clear policy prohibiting bias-based policing, i.e. racial profiling,” she added.

‘Race in the Courts’

In a community forum on “Race in the Courts” at the Durham Friends Meeting house on Friday, Scott Holmes, a local defense attorney, discussed racial disparities in traffic stops and alleged profiling by the Durham Police Department.

He said that black drivers are pulled over more often that whites in Durham and tend to be bullied by the police into consenting for searches of their vehicles.

According to the N.C. Department of Justice, blacks made up 59 percent of the drivers stopped in Durham during the past five years, while making up 41 percent of the city’s population in the 2010 census. Whites accounted for 39 percent of the stops and 42 percent of the population.

In North Carolina, the numbers show that a black motorist is 77 percent more likely to be searched after a traffic stop than a white driver.

In Durham County, a black motorist is more than twice as likely as a white to be searched after being stopped for speeding, according to a study by UNC political scientist Frank R. Baumgartner, who analyzed data from more than 13.2 million traffic stops from more than 10 years

The likelihood is even greater after being stopped for a seat-belt violation.

Alexander: 919-932-2008

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