Did John Tarantino spend too much time in the heat yesterday? Tarantino, a former Republican candidate for state senate, city council and school board, often brings his acoustic guitar and serenades Durham City Council at its weekly work sessions. The musical interludes are occasionally entertaining and are not the oddest moment you’ll see at a public meeting.

But yesterday Tarantino the Troubadour used his three minutes of public comment to launch the work session—the main event of which was a serious report about Durham Police and racial profiling—with a bizarre and racially insensitive “tribute” to Chief Jose Lopez.

Tarantino recast the words to Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville,” tossed in some Spanish-inflected English words (Lopez’ family is from Puerto Rico) and ended the song with “Ole!”

The crowd, which had packed the room, murmured and groaned, as if it had stubbed its collective toe.

“It’s not racist; it’s comedy,” Tarantino barked, as he headed toward the door.

Tarantino had to pass at least a half-dozen Durham police officers, who were seated in the back of the room. This is the same Tarantino, who, in 2006, was arrested on indecent exposure charges for allegedly showing a Durham cop his genitals.

Well at least he didn’t do that on the way out.

Onto the main event.

The city’s Human Relations Commission, an appointed group of 15 volunteers, laid out more than two-dozen recommendations, as the INDY reported last month, including that the officers undergo Racial Equity Training, that the authority and membership of the civilian police review board be expanded, and that officers get written consent before searching a person or vehicle.

Many of these recommendations were similar to those proposed by the NAACP, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and FADE (Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement).

However, three commission members—Richard Ford, Jeffrey Clark and Misty Odell—voted against the report, indicating a schism within the group.

Ford, Clark and Odell plan to issue their own report that details concerns about their fellow commissioners’ methodology. “Our report will also address the lack of any research by the Commission beyond receiving the presentations from advocacy groups. It will also discuss the failure of the commission to subject the statistical data presented to review by any qualified statisticians or experts.”


In addition the three dissenting commissioners say the suggestion that officers and police department employees undergo psychiatric evaluations every three years. “insults the members of law enforcement and interferes with their privacy in a fundamental way.”

Council members agreed that they and City Manager Tom Bonfield should consider the minority report before making final recommendations.

“I hope no one leaves this meeting thinking—or the media writing—that the DPD is filled with racist cops,” said Councilman Eugene Brown.

Councilman Steve Schewel called the issue and its successful resolution “the highest priority in the community.

“We have to make sure there is no racial profiling, discrimination or disproportionate minority contact. And we need buy in from the department as we make these changes.”

“Everywhere I go people are talking about this,” said Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden adding “I have experienced some of the negative behavior myself I’m glad the officers didn’t know who I was.”

City Manager Tom Bonfield has been quiet throughout the process, which has included several public hearings before the Civilian Police Review Board and the Human Relations Commission.

“I did this intentionally to let it happen and not to steer outcomes,” Bonfield said. “I take this recommendation very seriously. I will personally oversee the review of the recommendations.”

Bonfield is expected to complete his review and make recommendations to City Council by June 16.

Lopez did not hold a press conference after the meeting—he and the department had been scheduled to attend a commendation ceremony for several officers. However, in an interview Friday morning, Lopez told the INDY that some aspects of the recommendations had already been implemented.

For example, software for the onboard cameras has been modified so that they don’t turn off after a certain length of time. That required officers to log-in again if that happened. Officers have never been able to disable cameras, Lopez said.

As for the complaint process, the forms will be more easily available, although, Lopez noted, “you can give me a sticky note with a complaint on it and we’ll investigate it.”

Lopez told the INDY that when officers break the rules, they are disciplined. “I’ve disciplined more officers than any previous [Durham police] chief.”

Through an open records request, the INDY received a list of 49 officers who have been disciplined over the past three years. (The type of discipline is public record, but only in the case of firings can the reason for the discipline be made public.)

Of those 49 officers, 44 were suspended, two were demoted and three were fired.

A recruit was fired after cheating on an exam; another recruit could not pass the Basic Law Enforcement Training course; and an officer failed a drug test.

“The system works. That’s all you want, is a proper investigation to get to the truth.”