Questions on practices and profiling

Oct. 11, 2013 @ 03:11 PM

It’s impossible to resolve questions if parties talk past each other, which is what appears to be taking place between the Durham Police Department and a group of residents who are critical of what they believe are practices targeting blacks and other minorities.
Critics of the department at an Oct. 1 forum argued that police crimefighting practices are essentially creating a “new Jim Crow” for blacks and other minorities.
The police have not specifically addressed the questions, and instead responded by calling a press conference Thursday to tout the drop in crime its tactics have yielded in the area known as Operation Bull’s Eye.
Operation Bull’s Eye, a 2-square-mile area centered near where Alston Avenue and Main Street intersect, was launched in 2007 under the auspices of then-Police Chief Steve Chalmers. Statistically, the numbers show Operation Bull’s Eye has by and large been a success. With gun crimes in the area in 2006-07 logging in at 184 before the program launched, the numbers had dropped to 80 by 2009-10. They have edged up since, hitting 100 in 2012-13.
The initiative also has received strong community support, with the department noting Thursday that two well-known local pastors, along with Ernie Mills of the Durham Rescue Mission and David Reese of the East Durham Children’s Initiative have lauded the program. Reese, appearing with department officials at the press conference, credited police cooperation with community groups with making east Durham safer.
While the numbers and the testimony of groups on the ground in areas that have traditionally struggled with crime show reflect trends, the question of whether racial profiling is driving at least some of that success lingers.
Statistics show, as Ray Gronberg reported in Monday’s Herald-Sun, that the Durham Police Department’s officers in 2012 searched 6.2 percent of the vehicles they stopped. Blacks constituted 79.4 percent of the searches. In contrast, the Durham Sheriff’s Office searched 11.6 percent of vehicles that deputies stopped; 43.7 percent of the drivers were black.
The department has made strides on a number of fronts under the leadership of Chief Jose Lopez. And Lopez frequently urges residents to trust officers and talk to the police as the best means for deterring crime. But you can’t ask residents who believe that officers find them suspect just because of skin color to trust those very same officers.
And while we don’t care for the critics’ suggestion to give residents oversight of police officers in vetting complaints – that should stay squarely within the city manager’s domain – the questions about how officers determine which people merit closer scrutiny deserves more discussion. It bears a closer look, both by the community and those with oversight of the Police Department, about whether there’s legitimacy in profiling concerns. For the police and community, it’s a win-win. If the concerns don’t hold water, the community will feel more confident in the department knowing the questions were given serious consideration. If there is merit to the concerns, better practices will need to be implemented, again benefiting the department and the city it polices.