Note: This article has been corrected to say the DPD officer in the Jesus Huerta case failed to turn the onboard camera back on after it went off automatically. The officer did not turn off the camera.
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez has consistently—and emphatically—denied his department engages in racial profiling, despite evidence presented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the Durham Chapter of the NAACP, FADE and other community groups.
“… the issue of racial profiling. We’re able to show it’s not happening. I think the material [documentation given by DPD to the Human Relations Commission] is quite clear. We’re using statisticians versus someone who has an intended agenda. If you ask, the purpose is not racial profiling; it’s minimizing drug arrests. Who’s truly being transparent?”
Well, apparently not the Durham Police, if you read a report released by the city’s Human Relations Commission this week, concluded that “the existence of racial bias and profiling is present” in DPD practice. The commission also made more than 30 recommendations to City Council to improve the conduct of DPD.
The Council is scheduled to take up the recommendations at its work session Thursday, May 8. However, at the regular Council meeting Monday, May 5, Lopez is expected to deliver the department’s first-quarter crime report, which could also be interesting.
Coincidentally, this week The Washington Post published an interesting and timely article about the difficulties of gauging racial profiling, not just In New York City, which had a controversial stop and frisk policy, but nationwide. The piece undercuts some of Lopez’s arguments, including his contention that more crime is happening in minority neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods, so naturally, police patrol those areas more frequently, and the number of minorities stopped or arrested is greater.
But that’s not true, especially for drug crimes.“Research consistently says that blacks are not more likely — they may even be less likely — than whites to use drugs. But they are four times as likely to be arrested for some drug possession charges,” the Washington Post article states.
“We can’t even simply compare the universe of people who are stopped against the universe of who are ultimately arrested, because police make both stops and arrests. Any bias would be built into both samples.”
And if the police aren’t hanging out in white neighborhoods, there very well could be crime happening there, but the white people aren’t getting caught:
“… we don’t know how many people — or which people — in that city committed a burglary, with or without getting caught. That larger group by definition evades data,” the Post goes on. “The ultimate question is this: How would a police officer respond differently to two people on the street who come from similar economic backgrounds, set in otherwise identical contexts, when one is white and the other not?”
The answer to that question seemed clear given the testimony at many public hearings held by the HRC and the Civilian Police Review Board over the last several months. Dozens of citizens, all black, told these groups of questionable encounters with the police: People stopped ostensibly for no reason; searches conducted without consent; other individuals were allegedly handcuffed and roughed up, under suspicion of committing a crime—but no charges were ever filed.
The Human Relations Commission report addresses public scrutiny stemming from several officer-related shootings in the past year. In the Jesus Huerta case, the officer had failed to turn on the onboard camera—it had turned off automatically—before Huerta died from a gunshot wound in the police car. An SBI investigation concluded he shot himself while handcuffed, but there is no concrete visual evidence of what happened.
For example, the HRC recommends that the vehicle cameras operate at all times and that officers should not be able to turn them off. Digital copies of the recordings are to be kept for at least six months.
Other recommendations, which have been forwarded to City Council, include:
Officers should tell people why they’re being detained, and the reason should be documented and available to them.
A written form, in both English and Spanish, should be required for all consent searches. In order for the search to be conducted, the citizen must sign the form. All searches must be documented, including the reason.
DPD should track its traffic stop data and submit it for review by qualified independent analysts.
Those reports should be forwarded to City Council.
An officer’s job performance should also in part be evaluated on their adherence to stop and search policies.
DPD was not the only group to be scrutinized by the HRC. The Civilian Police Review Board, which has long had a reputation for its impotence, also would change radically if City Council agrees with the recommendations.
The police review board should have more power to investigate the complaints themselves rather than just review how Internal Affairs looked into them.
The city should bring in a representative NACOLE (The National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement) to train the police review board.
Currently, the city manager oversees the police review board and the police department, which could create a conflict of interest. Instead, the HRC recommended the City Council have oversight for the police review board, and assign a staff attorney to it.
The U.S. Justice Department has announced it will launch a pilot program in five cities, still to be named, to collect data on police stops, frisks and arrests, in order to ferret out racial bias in law enforcement. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has assembled a database of every traffic stop in the state since 2000 (now approaching 14 million).Ian Andrew Mance, an attorney with SCSJ, said his group has mined this database to identify profiling “hotspots” throughout the state, which is how it discovered Durham’s pronounced enforcement disparities.