The recommendations don’t sugar coat it. Eliminate District 5 and reallocate personnel and resources. Reorganize and repurpose HEAT, VIRT, and SET teams. Improve the relationship between the police department and city officials. Prioritize patrol staffing. Acknowledge and address public perception of racism and discriminatory policing.

There’s more. Those are just some of the first priority recommendations—the ones of the utmost importance—that came as part of a management and operations study conducted by the International Associations of Chiefs of Police during a presentation to the Durham City Council.

The recommendations are a good start (while I’m not convinced eliminating District 5 is the best idea, I’ll hear ’em out), but what was of more concern was the staffing study’s depiction of racial bias studies completed in Durham by various groups and academics.

The staffing study has been at least a year in the making—after council approved a $91,323 contract to conduct it (which was an upgrade after a previous agreement for only $41,323).

The study presented by Mitchell Weinzetl, a former chief of police in Minnesota, highlighted staffing practices and issues within the department and showed just how many more officers the department would need to be adequately staffed (at least forty-seven). When the IACP conducted the study, there was authorization for 633 positions, including 512 sworn officers (out of those, only 196 are patrol officers).

The city has already authorized the department to begin hiring twenty additional officers in the most recent fiscal year budget. On top of that, on Thursday, just hours before the meeting with the city council, it was announced that the U.S. Departmentment of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (also knowns as COPS) was giving DPD $1.8 million to hire fifteen officers. That forty-seven isn’t going to be hard to reach, but that isn’t going o fix everything.

While the data wasn’t shocking to any of the members of the council, it was the discussion on the 200-plus page report that highlighted some of the concerns they have.

There was nearly two hours of back-and-forth discussion on the study—and most notably, portions highlighted “perceived” biases in the department. This is, perhaps, where the report takes a turn and damages itself. We’ve known for years that the police department is under staffed. The patrol officers—those officers driving around from 911 call to 911 call—are stressed. They don’t always get the time to do what we want them to do—connect with the community. The report itself (on page 148) says there’s mistrust in the community—”The common theme that emerged from interviews with a wide cross-section of members of the Durham community focused on the poor relationship and lack of public trust between the Durham Police Department and the community.”

But then, just pages later (page 153) the report reads: “Although we acknowledge that some officers may engage in disparate or discriminatory practices, in our assessment, racism is not an institutional problem within the DPD. However, this perception has become a reality for many citizens, and they view all actions
by all officers through this prism. Effective communication at multiple levels must be a key element of any strategy.” It essentially discredits all of the studies that have been done on the police department’s traffic stop practices.

The report also pointed a finger at the city council and City Manager Tom Bonfield for some of the issues (from page 72): “Based on our observations and interviews, the city council has exerted a high level of oversight over the police department. This level of oversight and the associated actions by government officials have contributed to a sense of distrust among these entities, which has also contributed to a deterioration of community confidence in the police department. Many within the police department feel unappreciated and unfairly persecuted, and this has led to significant morale issues within the agency.”

Councilman Charlie Reece was a bit, let’s say, baffled by those assertations for a few reasons. “In your report, in the community policing section you go through a very detailed accounting of what we’ve been through in the last two, three years … And that to me is how it ought to work. The community identifies a problem. They document it extensively. They come to city council and ask for action to be taken.”

Weinzetl’s opinions and findings regarding the city council’s oversight creating distrust in the community was a concern for Reece.

“We heard from the community about issues that they have concerns about, some of which didn’t prove to be true. And we can talk about the two reports that you cited that show the racial disparity with due respect, I disagree. I think those studies have material flaws,” Weinzetl said.

The IACP did not find evidence either way concerning racial disparities or racism within the department.

Councilman Don Moffitt backed-up Reece’s thoughts.

“He’s not alone here. Perceptions may be a problem, I think they are a problem. But to describe the issue as ‘perceptions alone’ is to gloss over the issue, which is detailed not only in the reports you alluded to but in the Research Triangle Institute’s ‘Veil of Darkness’ study that was commissioned by the Durham Police Department,” Moffitt said.

Councilwoman Jillian Johnson also took umbrage with the staffing study’s discrediting of the racial bias studies.