Informing the community

Nov. 22, 2013 @ 03:45 PM

City Council member Don Moffitt voiced concerns that this newspaper and we believe many other people in the community have about about the lack of answers surrounding a series of shootings involving Durham police officers that have occurred since 2012.
The length of time that questions have gone unanswered in some of the cases is a major sticking point for the councilman, and it should be.
The officer-involved fatal shooting of Jose Ocampo in July, the officer-involved fatal shooting of Derek Walker in September, the recent death of 17-year-old Jesus Huerta while in the back of a police cruiser in the department’s parking lot, and the traffic-stop scuffle between Carlos Riley Jr. and Officer Kelly Stewart that wound up with the officer being shot with his own gun in 2012 (Riley maintains Stewart shot himself accidentally; Stewart says Riley shot him).
We appreciate Police Chief Jose Lopez’s response on Friday to concerns about transparency in the investigations. The chief makes several good points in his statement, including that speaking prematurely about the details of those investigations could harm the work being done by the State Bureau of Investigation, the District Attorney’s Office, the victims and their families. That is a valid concern.
But his statement also didn’t offer anything concrete to lead us or others in the community to believe that we will get any answers quickly.
In the Huerta case, it’s certainly too early for full answers. But as information becomes available – in any of these cases -- it should be released.
The lack of any update in the cases is extraordinarily frustrating. City Manager Tom Bonfield correctly noted in an interview with The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg, “When another event happens, it compounds the frustration.”
The chief in his statement Friday morning noted that the credibility of the Police Department is at stake. We wholeheartedly agree. In addition to the shootings, community members have raised concerns about whether the department engages in racial profiling. The department is struggling to maintain trust and confidence from the community. Sharing updates on the status of the current investigations can only help build a stronger relationship with the community.
Taking a page from the recent football team bus escort debacle that the Sheriff’s Office had in which deputies fully acknowledged there were problems with what had taken place, it seems better to get the findings on the table sooner rather than later.
We agree with Mayor Bill Bell that due diligence needs to take place. And while the mayor said there’s “frustration of not being able to get an answer with all the details as quickly as we’d like…,” we’d settle for at least getting the details as they become known.