City panel concludes Durham police have racial bias

jwise@newsobserver.comApril 30, 2014 

  • More information

    Police department response

    The Durham Police Department rebutted allegations of racism at Human Relations Commission meetings last year.

    The department acknowledged racial disparities in traffic stops and searches, and in drug-law enforcement, but denies those disparities racial profiling or discrimination.

    In a March commentary, Chief Jose Lopez said arrest data reflects suspect descriptions provided by victims. There is also “a disparity in victimization, with people of color overwhelmingly more likely to be victims of crime, particularly violent crime,” facts the chief said the department’s critics have ignored.

    Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, said: “Being a man of color, it’s not something that I would be doing.”

— The city’s Human Relations Commission has concluded racial bias and profiling exist within the Durham Police Department and has more than 30 recommendations to address it.

Commission members inserted that conclusion into the introduction of their report on a six-month investigation of alleged racist behavior by police officers.

“Given our research, supported by testimony from Durham citizens, we found the existence of racial bias and profiling present in the Durham Police Department practices,” it says.

A vote to include the statement came near the end of a three-hour meeting Tuesday night before the commission plans to present its report to the City Council on May 8. It was the second meeting for final editing after the commissioners could not finish April 1.

The report’s 34 recommendations were consolidated from more than 50 commissioners adopted in February and March, after a series of public hearings including police responses to the allegations.

Among the final recommendations:

•  Begin a racial equity training program for officers, created and implemented by the police department in collaboration with a “national independent training organization” approved by the city manager and City Council;

•  Do psychiatric evaluations for all police employees at least once every three years;

•  Obtain written permission for consent searches during police stops, with the driver’s signature on a form required before a search may be done;

•  Have police, in partnership with agencies such as the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Fostering Alternatives for Drug Enforcement, promote “a comprehensive program” to educate citizens on their rights in regard to police stops and searches;

•  Allow the city’s Civilian Police Review Board – instead of the police department’s internal affairs – to investigate citizen complaints.

Since 2003, according to city records, the civilian review board has received 31 appeals challenging the department’s findings in complaints against police, but has granted only two hearings. In its own self-study, however, the board rejected the idea of conducting its own investigations because its volunteer citizen-members lack the time and expertise to do so.

Mayor Bill Bell assigned the Human Relations Commission to investigate police behavior and policies after a group of citizens brought complaints and statistical evidence to a council work session in September 2013.

Wise: 919-641-5895

Durham News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service