Police: Numbers don’t tell full story on searches

Nov. 12, 2013 @ 10:17 PM

The Durham Police Department doesn’t dispute statistics that suggest more black motorists than white are pulled over and subject to searches.
“We just can’t,” Deputy Chief Anthony Marsh Sr. told members of the Human Relations Commission on Tuesday night. “They’re our numbers.”
But numbers don’t tell the whole story, Marsh said during his presentation. Information in a report produced Oct. 17 by the Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement (FADE) coalition is “at best inconclusive,” he said.
There’s no pattern, practice, culture or tolerance for bias-based enforcement, he said. However, he acknowledged that it happens.
“We don’t presume to say bias-based policing doesn’t exist,” he said.
No two traffic stops are alike, Marsh said, but “behavior, not race, is the deciding factor” in whether an officer asks to search a vehicle.
Also, he noted that the department deploys its resources “where the problems are and where the community has asked for it.”
Each year, officers are required to complete an online course in racial sensitivity, but it is not specific to police work, Marsh said. The department wants something that addresses police interactions with community, he said, “but I can’t promise you we’re going to find it.”
Chief Jose Lopez explained that any new sensitivity training would supplement what the Police Department already uses.
“We do have quite a bit,” he said.
In the past five years, Marsh said, the department has received nine official citizen complaints pertaining to bias-based enforcement. Of those, three were sustained because officers had forgotten to fill out necessary paperwork. Five were exonerated. One was deemed unfounded by a federal judge.
Some say that the low number of complaints suggests a problem with the department, he said. “We think it speaks to the caliber of the work rather than signifying a problem.”
Marsh encouraged anyone with issues with how they’ve been treated by the department to file complaints, either in person or online. Even if one complaint isn’t sustained, flags might be raised by multiple complaints about the same officer, he said.
“The fact you don’t get the answer you want does not mean you shouldn’t raise a complaint,” Marsh said.
The FADE coalition’s report includes several recommendations to the HRC to forward to Mayor Bill Bell and the City Council:
• Mandate written consent before any and all consent searches conducted by Durham police.
• Require open repudiation of racial profiling and selective enforcement in both traffic stops and drug enforcement.
• Knock marijuana down to the lowest priority for law enforcement in Durham and boost availability of pre-trial diversion programs.
• Mandate racial equity training for department leadership and rank-and-file officers alike.
• Create a task force of HRC members, FADE members, PAC chairs, police department representatives and people “directly affected by police misconduct.”
The FADE report singled out the department’s High Enforcement Abatement (HEAT) teams as a source of friction with the community.
Lopez told HRC members that HEAT team assignments vary from district to district, depending on problems identified within the community, ranging from drugs to burglaries to robberies.
Marsh described the HEAT units as proactive and said those officers go through extensive training on “how not to violate the 4th Amendment and properly write a search warrant.”
A follow-up meeting is expected in December, at which Police Department officials are supposed to provide stop-and-search data on a district-by-district basis, racial makeup of the department rank-and-file and executive staff and updates on the search for additional racial sensitivity training opportunities.
Eventually, the HRC plans to take information from focus groups and draft final recommendations to the City Council.
The department’s complete written response to the HRC should be online at durhampolice.com
no later than today, Marsh said.

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