Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis presented an after-action report on the anti-hate rally in downtown Durham last month to the City Council on Tuesday.

Among the highlights:

  • The initial information received by law enforcement suggested the Sons of Confederate Veterans, not the KKK, could be coming to town. Reports of a possible Klan rally that originated with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office prompted hundreds of people to converge on downtown within a matter of hours. Davis says her agency would not have shared unconfirmed reports of a possible rally. “We just felt from the beginning that this was going to be a nonevent,” she said. “ … That initial information was not worth putting out to us.”
  • The Durham Police Department had no intention of identifying and charging participants in the rally who were armed, which the Sheriff’s Office has. “I didn’t think it was a good use of our time and our resources to try to identify the many numbers of individuals who had open carry weapons,” Davis said. “This being the first time I saw a scenario like that, in my judgment I decided we need to send a blanket message out because a lot of folks are ignorant to the law, unfortunately. This is an open carry state and some folks think they can carry a weapon anywhere. … I think it’s more responsible that we give people an opportunity to correct that and that was just a discretionary call that we made.”
  • DPD staffed 115 officers at the eleven-hour event. The cost to the department, including overtime, food, water, and rental fees for four vans, was $25,137.77. In addition to county and city agencies, the state Highway Patrol was on standby but not deployed. Mayor Bill Bell said he twice received calls from the governor’s office asking if the city needed assistance. He declined, saying local officials had the situation under control. City council member Charlie Reece said a Department of Homeland Security vehicle was at the rally, but Davis seemed unaware of the agency being present, replying “Oh, was it?”

You can listen to audio of the report here and read Davis’ presentation here.

City council members commended Davis and her officers for their quick response to the spontaneous gathering.

“All of the officers that I encountered and interacted with were incredibly professional, there to do their jobs and, I felt and other folks I talked to who were at the event felt, were there to keep them safe,” said Reece, referring to officers and deputies. ” … That afternoon really represented some of the best of who we are as a city,”

In her review, Davis laid out a timeline of how the August 18 event unfolded and assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the law enforcement response. She described the event as largely peaceful, with some “persons with nefarious intent mingling” in the crowd.

“I don’t have a problem statement because anytime individuals want to exercise their First Amendment rights, I don’t look at it as a problem,” she said.

According to Davis, county law enforcement got information from an unknown source on August 17 that the Sons of Confederate Veterans were planning a demonstration downtown the next day at noon. The next morning at seven forty-five, DPD and the Sheriff’s Office met and tried to verify that information.

“During the attempt to sort of verify a source, the county decided based on information that they had that they would go ahead and stand up their [Emergency Operations Center],” Davis said.

City and county officials met again at ten a.m. to discuss the possibility of a counterprotest “due to the high volume of social media response” and media attention. The county then decided to close and vacate some of its offices, signaling to the city that something was going to happen.

“That’s when the DPD decided to go ahead and stand up our incident command as well,” Davis said.

Durham police stood down around seven forty-five p.m. after officers in tactical gear warned protesters, who had marched from the old county courthouse to the jail and the Durham Police Department’s headquarters, to disperse. Davis showed a clip of body camera footage capturing officers slowly marching forward chanting, “Move back.” One person was charged with failing to disperse.

Davis said the DPD mounted a quick response involving multiple agencies, stayed on top of other calls for service, and kept their composure.

“They were taunted all day, and some people said some really ugly things to them, and they continued at this peaceful demonstration to be professional,” she said.

She identified a need for joint training and “synchronized, consistent communication.”

“We didn’t have any control over the ambiguous communication that was out there about this particular incident,” she said. The agency also lacked “real-time video at critical locations that could have helped us to point our eyes on some of the things that were concerning to us, especially some of the people with weapons and things like that.”

About twelve to fifteen people were observed openly carrying weapons, “which I had never seen before in my career” at a peaceful protest, Davis said. But attempting to arrest those people in the moment would have created a volatile situation.

Davis implored city officials and the organizers of protests to send “a clear message” to keep weapons out of public demonstrations.

“It’s not a good look for us as a city if we’re saying we’re having a peaceful protest,” she said. Her statements were echoed by a few council members, including Steve Schewel, who spoke of friends killed in the Greensboro Massacre in 1979 who had come armed to an anti-Klan rally.

“We all need to give that message,” Schewel said. “If you bring guns, you’re not on our side.”

Reece questioned why one man, Dwayne Dixon, had been charged by the Sheriff’s Office, not the DPD, for bringing a rifle to the rally. Davis said she had not discussed with Sheriff Mike Andrews his decision to identify and pursue charges against those who had been carrying weapons and was unaware of the “impetus” for the warrant issued for Dixon’s arrest six days after the rally.

“As the day went on we had to make decisions on when to engage, when not to engage, if police presence would create a more volatile situation,” Davis said. “A lot of folks thinks it’s best for the police to just jump right in and get the folks with the guns. We would have had some serious problems if we had done that. Our decision making was really about what was in the best interest of everyone who was there at the time.”

After the demonstration, the Sheriff’s Office put out a statement saying it has notified “leaders in the community of the potential of a counter protest” to the dismantling of a Confederate monument downtown earlier that week.

Davis said she wouldn’t have put out such unconfirmed information. Her department, she adds, didn’t disclose the tip about the Sons of Confederate Veterans gathering in order to counter the Klan narrative because that information was also unverified.

“Maybe the language changed somewhere in the mix as information was circulated,” she said, referring to the reports of a KKK appearance. “That was not the initial information we received, and that was not the reason we went to the Sheriff’s Office for the multi-agency meeting.”