Equity training, mental health prescribed for Durham police

jwise@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2014 

— The advisory body investigating alleged police racism has added more training in racial equity, crisis intervention and dealing with mental-health cases to its recommendations for the Durham Police Department.

The Durham Human Relations Commission also thinks the department needs to pay more attention to its employees’ own mental well-being.

Commissioners last week settled on more than 50 measures to recommend to the City Council, chosen from dozens of ideas produced in five months of public hearings on police policies and behavior.

“A lot of things have been going on here that are out of control,” commission Chairman Ricky Hart said during last week’s meeting. “That’s what the citizens have been saying.”

Commissioners voted to recommend a racial equity training program for all officers devised by the city in consultation with a “national independent training organization,” as well as mandatory psychological evaluations for all police employees every three years.

“(Officers) have got to be going through something being out there every day,” said Commissioner Joy Morgan. “There are things these fellas go home with at night.”

Several commissioners have been appointed to draft a report for the commission’s review April 1, with a final version to be presented at the City Council work session April 10.

The commission spent almost seven hours, in meetings March 4 and 11, selecting its recommendations. In the first meeting, it voted to recommend a stronger civilian police review board with membership representative of the entire city and for eliminating patrol officers’ ability to turn off their in-car video cameras.

Commissioners also said police need to do a better job of telling the public how officers are engaging with residents aside from making patrols and arresting suspects – through such avenues as the Police Athletic League and Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Mayor Bill Bell assigned the commission to look into the police department after it became the target of mounting public complaints in 2013. Those complaints involved three officer-involved shootings, alleged police violence and a University of North Carolina study that found a wide disparity between the numbers of white and black motorists stopped, searched and arrested in the city.

Stops and searches were the subject of several recommendations, including requiring officers to document the reasons for each stop and each search, making that information available to the public, and requiring written consent for searches.

The commissioners favor “an independent entity” to regularly review traffic-stop data to spot any “unusual trends” so the police administration can take remedial action.

“It needs to be ongoing … proactive,” said Commissioner Misty Odell. “If somebody were looking at (the data) now, we probably wouldn’t be here.

“Our goal is to help (the police),” she said. “The goal is, they don’t end up in this situation again.”

Commissioner Norris Wicker said Police Chief Jose L. Lopez told the commission he had been looking at the traffic-stop figures, which state law requires local law enforcement to provide for a central statewide database.

“He hasn’t seen what we see is there,” Wicker said. “If we recommend an outside entity comes in, they may hurry up and do something.”

Wise: 919-641-5895

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