Police issues vex candidates
City Council and mayoral candidates opted to tread lightly Tuesday during a televised forum when asked to give their views on whether the Durham Police Department has serious problems.
The most pointed response to that came from Ward 2 candidate Eddie Davis, who said the department needs to be more open with the public about its methods and doings.
“There is a problem, but the biggest problem is a problem of explanation to the community,” Davis said, adding that police commanders are sometimes more forthcoming in relatively low-profile Partners Against Crime meetings.
The other Ward 2 candidate, Omar Beasley, joined Ward 3 contender Pam Karriker and mayoral challenger Sylvester Williams in saying officials should make more use of the city’s Civilian Police Review Board.
Each of the three, however, put a different twist on that.
Karriker said she thinks the panel “could be strengthened,” but didn’t say how. Williams said it needs to allow citizens “a greater say” over the city administration’s handling of complaints against the police.
Beasley indicated he would leave the final say in disciplinary matters where it is now, with the city manager.
Mayor Bill Bell and appointed Ward 3 incumbent Don Moffitt both said they want to see what comes out of upcoming Human Relations Commission deliberations about some of the complaints about the police before they weigh in.
Moffitt, the council’s liaison to the Human Relations Commission, said it would be “inappropriate for me to take a stand” until the advisory panel completes its work.
The candidates spoke to the issue during their one and only joint forum before early voting in this year’s election begins on Thursday. The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Inter-Neighborhood Council.
Forum moderator John Martin’s decision to begin with the question about the police wasn’t surprising, given the criticism the department has received about its handling of recent officer-involved shootings and allegations of racial profiling.
The criticism sparked the City Council’s move to request a Human Relations Commission study. The panel gathered public comment earlier this month and is scheduled to meet on Thursday for members to begin discussion.
Critics of the department, most part of a loose coalition of groups, have argued for restraints on the department’s use of “consent” searches of motorists and a Civilian Police Review Board that would have binding authority over disciplinary matters.
Martin during Tuesday’s forum asked the candidates a related question about how they would prevent racial profiling by police.
Williams and Beasley responded by mentioning “racial sensitivity training,” alluding to a request from one of the most vocal of the groups that have criticized police, Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement, or FADE for short.
Karriker suggested a reconsideration of “drug enforcement priorities” so fewer young people end up with records that cripple their job prospects, and, like Beasley, said profiling is nationwide fact.
Moffitt said FADE’s requests “deserv[e] consideration,” but again noted the Human Relations Commission has yet to weigh in. Bell again said he doesn’t want to “jump in” before hearing from the panel.
Davis again argued that the department needs to be more forthcoming.
“I can’t believe the Police Department doesn’t have some sort of racial sensitivity training in their toolkit,” he said. “But if it is happening, they need to share that with their citizens. There ought to be ways the department can say to citizens, ‘Here’s what we do and why we do it,’ so we can deal with facts and not the emotions of the issue.”