Panel: DPD hasn’t eradicated race bias

Apr. 29, 2014 @ 11:03 PM

Wrapping up a seven-month effort, the city’s Human Relations Commission agreed Tuesday to report to elected officials that it’d “found the existence of racial bias and profiling present” in the Durham Police Department’s practices.

The statement was a last-minute addition to a draft report that for weeks looked likely to say instead that the advisory board couldn’t sort out the competing statistical claims of the Police Department and groups like the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

But a majority of the group proved uncomfortable with the idea of straddling the issue, voting 11-3 to alter the document accordingly before sending it to the City Council.

“The evidence and the testimony and material presented to us justifies the fact it exists,” member Norris Wicker said. “We’re not saying it happens every day, but it exists and is happening and ain’t stopped, and it needs to.”

“Just because there’s racial profiling or bias doesn’t mean the Durham Police Department is racist,” member Annice Fisher said. “It just means there are practices that have racial connotations to them.”

Other members noted that even the police have acknowledged major racial disparities in the data concerning the people they search and arrest.

Police argued those disparities exist in large part because there’s also a major disparity in the way crime affects residents, with the city’s blacks counted among victims far more often than their share of its population would suggest.

Commission Chairman Ricky Hart found that less than a convincing counter.

“How is it you can have 95 percent Caucasian citizens and 85 percent of the crime is being committed by black people?” Hart said, singling out the department’s northernmost operating district for an example. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”

The actual figures reported by the department for the northern area, District 2, were somewhat different from Hart’s.

The district is 37 percent black by population.

Blacks were 48 percent of District 2’s crime victims from 2008 to 2012, and 57 percent of its victims of violent crime. Victims in District 2 described their assailants as black 68 percent of the time. Of those police wound up arresting, 69 percent were black.

The commission advises changing the Police Department’s practices when it comes to “consent searches,” those an officer makes of a person after asking for permission, without necessarily having probable cause to think the person was involved in a crime.

Commission members agreed the department going forward should allow such searches only if the target offers written permission.

They also want to beef up the authority of another city advisory panel, the Civilian Police Review Board.

Its members should be appointed by the City Council, not the city manager as they are now, the Human Relations Commission said.

The review board should be able to conduct its own investigations instead of merely checking to see that the Police Department’s internal-affairs unit probed a misconduct complaint, the commission said.

Tuesday’s meeting saw a few other last-minute changes to the report that goes to the City Council early next month.

One asks city officials to work with the Human Relations Commission and groups like the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to educate residents about their rights when it comes to police stops and searches.

Another urges officials to incorporate a check of stop-and-search disparities into police officers’ annual job evaluations, to seek out any “irregularities” in conduct or department policy.