Commentary

Wilson: Police bias report should just FADE away

CorrespondentMay 30, 2014 

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So a majority of the Durham Human Relations Commission thinks the Police Department has a bent for racial profiling. Did anyone really believe the commission would find otherwise?

The commission’s report is a splendid example of confirmation bias, not least because the commission is too cozy with a local agitprop group, Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement.

The commission adopted four out of five reforms championed by FADE, putting the fifth, de-emphasizing marijuana enforcement, on the back shelf. (Too bad: This was the most worthwhile proposal in the whole package.)

The commission took FADE’s garbled “research” on police racial profiling at face value. The activist group’s allegations of discrimination against blacks and Latinos were not subjected to rigorous, impartial review of methodology and conclusions.

Consequently, no one can really say what the extent of racial profiling is in the city.

After all, Durham is 41 percent black and 14.3 percent Latino, and the Police Department itself is 25 percent black.

I’m not saying that profiling doesn’t occur here. I suspect it does among a few individuals, but profiling certainly isn’t policy in a force led by a Latino police chief, a black deputy chief and some 144 black officers, 15 percent of them commanders.

The department has defended itself vigorously against FADE’s allegations, pointing out with admirable common sense that minorities in Durham are arrested “at a rate consistent with their participation in criminal activity.”

That’s the irrefutable nub of the issue. Blacks and Latinos commit more crimes than whites. Consequently, more minorities are arrested.

Many of these arrests are for traffic violations that result in the search of a vehicle. FADE wants the police to obtain written consent for all such stops and searches unless probable cause exists to do do.

Think for a moment what written consent would have done to New York City’s highly effective search-and-frisk policy. Then think what written consent would do to diminish police effectiveness in Durham.

A police department is not a feel-good agency. It is a paramilitary organization licensed to arrest and in extreme circumstances kill to protect law-abiding citizens from violent criminals.

That power likely has much to do with FADE’s push to subject officers to psychiatric evaluation every three years, in addition to undergoing racial sensitivity training. Both recommendations were adopted whole-cloth by the Human Relations Commission.

Would it not be prudent for the commission to learn from qualified, independent sources whether expensive psychiatric evaluation and sensitivity training are necessary? Frankly, I doubt either can be justified.

Three commissioners were so wary of the majority’s recommendations that they wrote a minority opinion. For that, they were backhanded by member Joy Morgan for failing to go along with group-think.

Now, that alone speaks to the commission’s work. Dissent from confirmation bias makes you an enemy of the people.

Mayor Bill Bell unwisely anointed the Human Relations Commission to investigate the police department. The commission has neither the expertise nor the impartiality to produce a credible report.

The result is an unjustified hit on the Police Department’s reputation and trust in the black and Latino communities.

Nonetheless, if Bell and the City Council really believe something is amiss in the department, they should have sought an organization without a dog in the fight to investigate it.

The City Council can and should stop this smear campaign in its tracks by refusing to endorse the commission’s report. It is so riddled with talk-show psychology and amateurish statistical misfires that tossing it into a compost bin would be an act of mercy.

Clarification

Last week, I noted that former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgenau, had been “disinvited” to deliver Haverford College’s 2014 Commencement Address. The Haverford administration stood by Birgenau, who voluntarily withdrew after students and faculty protested his handling of the Occupy movement at Berkeley.

Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.

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