DURHAM — Despite the statistical evidence, Durham police refuted claims of racial discrimination at Tuesday night’s Human Relations Commission meeting.
The commission summoned a police department representative to answer concerns about alleged racial profiling by officers in black communities and during traffic stops.
The commission in September heard 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 ignored complaints, beatings, and arrests they called groundless.
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.
During a presentation to the commission Tuesday, Deputy Police Chief Anthony Marsh said data collected by the department is indisputable but it still does not indicate racial profiling. He cited only nine complaints in the last five years of biased policing.
In Durham County, however, 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.
In Tuesday’s presentation to the commission, Marsh tried to point out the good the police department was doing in the community and said a lot of the complaints were found to be false, referring to them as detractors.
Based on the accusations of police being more likely to ask blacks for consent to search their vehicle, board member Annice Fisher asked Police Chief Jose Lopez and Marsh why the department doesn’t track attempts of officers trying to gain consent for searches. Lopez said he didn’t think it was necessary.
“Unless there is a definite sign that it is going on, why make officers fill out another form?” Lopez asked.
“Based on these complaints, you might want to start keeping track,” Fisher responded.
Nia Wilson, a coalition member of FADE (Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement) said she was disappointed by the police department’s presentation.
“The department talked about the good they do in the community, but didn’t address the concerns,” Wilson said. “Calling concerned community members detractors is an indicator of how serious they take our concerns.”
Ian Mance, a civil rights attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice echoed her sentiments.
“Although it’s good to see the department finally acknowledge that these large racial disparities exist, the department failed to offer any explanation for them,” Mance said. “Strategic deployment decisions may explain some of the disparities in the stop numbers, but they can’t explain the search numbers.
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1