Majority of DPD officers live outside Durham

Aug. 28, 2014 @ 05:49 PM

City Manager Tom Bonfield’s report on police issues gave the City Council and key political groups another one to chew on, namely whether enough of Durham’s cops actually live in the city.
Bonfield pointed out that city residents are a minority on the Durham Police Department’s force of sworn officers, holding down 216 of its 520 roster slots. That’s just short of 42 percent.
City residents are even more in the minority of the department’s recent recruits.
Its police academy has accepted 185 recruits since August 2010. Of those, only 51 – a bit less than 28 percent – came from the city.
The manager addressed the issue because the city’s Human Relations Commission, in a report on racial-profiling allegations, recommended that the Police Department in its recruiting “create a pipeline to employment” for city residents.
That’s a view at least a few City Council members share.
“I’d prefer that the great majority of our police officers want to live in Durham,” Councilman Don Moffitt said. “In fact, I’d prefer that they did live in Durham.”
But Bonfield didn’t recommend any major changes to the department’s recruiting practices, saying it already has “a strong commitment to hiring Durham residents” and actively tries to drum up interest locally in hiring on as a cop.
He agreed with police commanders that the department should continue hiring “the best-qualified candidates regardless of their residency.”
Council interest in the makeup of the force surfaced recently in another context, with a trio of members pointing out that the department’s most recent crop of rookies was predominantly white.
The trainee class in question was 70 percent white upon graduation, a percentage that wasn’t particularly out of line with varying rookie-class demographics that have prevailed since 2007, before incumbent Police Chief Jose Lopez took over.
But it was out of line with the makeup of the city’s population, which by U.S. Census Bureau reckoning is 49 percent white and 37 percent black.
Bonfield’s report arrived as the recent disorder in Ferguson, Missouri, was settling down.
There, protests, rioting and widely criticized police counters erupted after a white officer from a predominantly white police department shot and killed a black youth in a predominantly black community.
The incident has focused attention among other things on police recruiting nationally, with many observers arguing that radically-out-of-line or out-of-town demographics can contribute to trouble between its department and its community.
Moffitt’s opinion is consistent with that point of view.
“In my ideal city, when officers are on patrol, they’re in their own neighborhoods among people they know,” he said.
“I think our officers pay close attention to where they are, and the people and who they are,” he continued. “But when they spend their off time in other communities, it makes it much more difficult to get to know the people with whom they’re working. And it goes to the issue of trust. When my neighbor is a police officer, I’m naturally going to have a little more trust in the department than when I don’t know any of the officers.”
The big-three political groups that have spoken up on police issues, the People’s Alliance and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, are also aware of the in-town, out-of-town discrepancy in residency.
Durham Committee spokesman Omar Beasley said city officials should look into the reasons why it might exist, including “whether it’s an additional cost” for officers to live in Durham versus other parts of the Triangle.
People’s Alliance spokesman Charlie Reece more or less agreed, citing housing costs as a potential barrier to officer residency at which the council should look.
He also said the department’s ongoing controversies have produced a “decline in public trust” that’s likely made recruiting from within Durham “a lot more difficult in recent years.”
Those controversies focus on a trio of officer-involved shootings last year, the department’s handling of protests after the third of those incidents, city admitted disparities in the number of black and white motorists stopped and searched, and city admitted disparities in the number of blacks and whites arrested for marijuana violations.
But residency complaints aren’t particular to the Police Department, as local activists like Victoria Peterson have long argued that as fruitful as the city’s business-incentive may be in landing jobs, relatively few of those jobs go to city residents.
Durham as part of the Triangle sits close to more than a dozen other cities and towns, plus the countryside around them. Commuting between communities and from county to county is common in both the public and private sectors.