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Groups feel vindicated by report showing racial profiling in Durham traffic stops

Posted March 18

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— New data showing black men are more likely to be stopped by police in Durham was hailed by civil rights groups Friday as validation of their calls for change in the police department.

Research firm RTI International examined 151,700 traffic stops conducted in Durham between January 2010 and October 2015 and found that, in traffic stops with male drivers, the odds of a stopped driver being black were 20 percent higher during daylight than after dark, when it was harder for officers to distinguish the race of a driver.

"Turns out that we weren't hallucinating," said Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton, pastor of Abundant Hope Christian Church.

Groups such as the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement, or FADE, have been pushing for change in the Durham Police Department for at least three years, alleging racial bias in the way the department conducted traffic enforcement and drug enforcement.

Former Police Chief Jose Lopez, who retired in December, has said in the past that there was no more racial bias in the Durham Police Department than any other organization.

The greatest racial gap was found in traffic stops conducted by members of the High Enforcement Abatement Team, which focuses on drugs, vice and gang violence.

FADE complained about the HEAT unit in 2013, and police said they are now making changes to it.

"We've redirected some of the HEAT team's focus," Deputy Chief Anthony Marsh said.

The RTI study also indicated that the racial gap in traffic stops narrowed over the six-year period, with black male drivers most represented between 2010 and 2013. Community groups said that trend is due in part to their work.

"The report says disproportionality has somewhat disappeared. If that's the case, it did not happen by accident," Middleton said.

Representatives of FADE and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice said that, while they are pleased with the study's findings, more reforms are needed in the police department. Some of the recommendations they made in 2013 have yet to be addressed, they said.

"This is not a time for a victory lap. This is a time for us to double down and get serious," Middleton said. "This conversation can't be police-driven. It cannot be city manager-driven. It's got to be at the council level, it's got to be at the mayoral level, and citizens have got to engage and say, 'What do we want the philosophy of policing to be?'"

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  • Duane Putnam Mar 19, 2016
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    DID JA EVER THINK THAT 20% MORE BLACK MEN ARE STOPPED BECAUSE THEY DRIVE FASTER AND MORE RECKLESSLY THAN OTHERS? OR COULD IT BE THAT IT IS MORE LIKELY THAT BLACK MEN ARE STOPPED MORE FOR DRUG ENFORCEMENT BECAUSE THEY ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE INVOLVED IN THE DRUG TRADE? AND DID JA THINK THAT JUST MAYBE MORE BLACK MEN ARE STOPPED IN DURHAM BECAUSE MORE BLACK MEN LIVE IN DURHAM? NUMBERS WITHOUT CONTEXT ARE JUST THAT-NUMBERS. WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST? HAVE THE COPS CHECK EACH SPEEDING CAR AND THEN DECIDE? OH, IT'S A WHITE GUY. HAVE TO STOP HIM! WELL, IT'S A BLACK GUY. EVEN THO HE'S DOING 80 IN A SCHOOL ZONE, JUST GOTTA LET HIM GO, OUR NUMBERS ARE OUT OF WHACK THIS WEEK? I SUPPOSE THAT THE NEXT THING WILL BE THAT IF IT IS A BLACK GUY SHOOTING AT THEM, THEY CAN'T SHOOT BACK?

  • Eric Bohlen Mar 19, 2016
    user avatar

    They feel vindicated because they don't understand statistics.

  • Andy Jackson Mar 18, 2016
    user avatar

    In the police's defense, with all the vehicles that have heavy and dark tinted windows, they can't see who and how many are in vehicles, at night so they have to be extra careful. That has NOTHING to do with race. Also - did the reports show the location of the police stops? Meaning,, if the location is in a predominately black neighborhood, then most stops will be for black individuals. But of course data can be manipulated to show what one wants it to mean.