DURHAM — City Manager Tom Bonfield will have a response to the Human Relation Commission report on police racism claims ready for City Council review by Aug. 21, perhaps by Aug. 7.
“I take the concerns raised ... very, very seriously,” Bonfield told the council Monday night, “and recognize the necessity for a trusting relationship between the Durham community and the Durham Police Department,”
After hearing testimony for more than six months, a majority of the Human Relations Commission concluded that racial bias and profiling exist “in the Durham Police Department practices” and offered 44 recommendations to deal with it.
They include requiring written consent for traffic-stop searches, having an independent analysis of traffic-stop data done and doing regular psychiatric evaluations of police personnel.
The council heard the report May 22, and Bonfield said he would personally review it. He told council members he would let them know by Monday’s meeting, the last before summer break, when to expect his response.
“We all wish this could be taken care of instantly, but it can’t,” Councilman Steve Schewel told audience members on hand to hear what Bonfield would say.
“Understand,” Schewel added, “that the council hasn’t had a chance to vet these recommendations, and we need help from the (city) administration on some of them.”
In a memo, Bonfield said if any particular commission recommendations appear “appropriate” and within his authority, he will implement them right away without waiting for the council’s OK.
“Also, it is reasonable to expect that some recommendations ... will not receive my concurrence,” he said.
Eight citizens spoke about the commission report at Monday’s council meeting. Two expressed support for Police Chief Jose L. Lopez, whose resignation has been called for by some police critics.
“I’m just a little concerned with some of the things I’m hearing in terms of rumors about getting rid of the chief,” said Hilton Cancél, speaking for the state chapter of the National Latino Police Officers Association.
“I can only say that I’m concerned about these rumors, and I hope this august body will give him a fair shake,” Cancél said.
“For quite some time there has been been talk in the Hispanic community about the potential removal of Chief Lopez due to allegations of racial discrimination and racism, speakers said.
“We have had individuals making public requests to remove Chief Lopez as a ‘solution’ to issues in this city” said Iris Ramirez Reese, CEO of Fusion Multicultural Marketing in Durham.
“Please ... don’t let the actions of these individuals make you feel strong-armed to have our chief removed,” she said.
“There has also been talk that the Hispanic community does not stand behind their chief,” Reese went on. “I’m using my voice because I want you to know that we will no longer allow anyone else to speak for us. We are articulate and we can speak for ourselves.”
Most of the speakers, though, repeated some of the complaints of police profiling, violence and harassment against black and Hispanic residents that led to the commission investigation last fall.
“I understand that the issues that have been raised ... have to be dealt with with sensitivity,” said Durham attorney Charlie Reece, speaking for the Durham People’s Alliance, which supports the commission recommendations.
“Just remember ... these racial disparities are real, they exist today,” Reece said. “Real people are harmed.”