Local News

Report: Racial bias exists within Durham Police Department

Posted May 1, 2014

— Durham's Human Relations Commission says in a new report that racial bias and profiling does exist in the Bull City's police department, and it plans to present a list of nearly three dozen recommendations to city leaders on how to fix the problem.

In October, Durham Mayor Bill Bell asked the 15-member panel of residents to look into allegations after scrutiny about how police officers handled a series of highly publicized incidents, including the shooting of a distraught 26-year-old black man in a downtown plaza.

"Based on our research, supported by testimony from Durham citizens, we found the existence of racial bias and profiling present in the Durham Police Department practices," the Human Relations Commission says in its five-page report.

The six-month review was based on a series of public hearings, interviews with police department representatives, community advocacy groups and residents.

The final results: 34 recommendations that will be presented to leaders at next week's City Council meeting.

Among them:

  • Implementing diversity, mental health and crisis intervention training for new police recruits and enhancing training for current officers
  • Increasing awareness of the police department's community programs and increasing officers' visibility in the community to "give citizens a greater understanding and appreciation" of the department's "positive work"
  • Psychiatric evaluations every three years for officers and police employees
  • Changing police department policy that allows officers to disable cameras installed in patrol vehicles
  • Requiring police officers to clearly communicate to citizens the purpose for their interactions
  • Obtaining written consent and a signature for police searches

In an Oct. 31 report to Durham's city manager, the police department said that it doesn't deny that racial bias might exist among some police officers, but it denies "the existence of any pattern, practice, culture or tolerance for bias-based policing."

“There is as much racial bias in the police department as there is in any organization," Police Chief Jose Lopez said Thursday. "If we discover it, we work to address it."

Some of the recommendations, such as diversity training, he said, are things the police department is already doing. He declined to comment further, saying he is waiting to see what action city leaders might take on the recommendations.

Daryl Atkinson, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and a member of the community group Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement, says he thinks the report and set of recommendations are an important step for the community.

"People in the most directly impacted community should feel a sense of validation because this has been their life experience day in and day out," Atkinson said. "This is nothing new to them."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • wcnc May 2, 2014

    I think this committee should've been required to do at least 1 ride along before issuing their report. Maybe then they'd have a clue what officers in Durham have to deal with on a daily basis. Maybe they'd also have a report and recommendations on what citizens need to do to improve their interactions with police.... like authority sensitivity training, teaching them respect and how to avoid committing crimes, etc.
    The committee didn't impress me with their recommendations, especially since many of them are already in place in the department! They should've done better research and then they wouldn't have shown their ignorance so much!

  • rickandlinda88 May 2, 2014

    bias how?this sword cuts many ways.as long as durham's police dept.allows girlfriend abusers; wife abusers;out of control ego maniacs and officers who think they are judge;jury and executioner;things will never change in this town.

  • 61babygirl29 May 2, 2014

    I've read... I've listened. Yes, bias exists everywhere. When I moved to Durham, the first thing out of my friend's mouth who lives here (and she's white) is that Durham living is good but be real careful of the police department because they're corrupt! I quickly responded to her to say I have no fear of them because I do nothing wrong. She quickly rebutted and said "but you visit your family that lives in a bad area so you'll be seen over there and they'll stop you." Of course I thought she was losing her mind until I was stopped, not my 1st, 2nd 3rd time but my 4th time and when I asked for the reason for my stop-the officer-not one but each one would say "we have a lookout for a car like yours." Either I need to get a different car, or my friend was right. Been here 6 months-stopped 4 times. I work everyday, no criminal record, no traffic tickets, no insurance lapse ever, no lights needing repair, no tag expiration ever... Just praying those other cars don't commit any crimes.

  • ALLIN May 1, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Judging things using pure numerical value is fine when the things are inanimate objects, however when you include the human factor with a variable of being humane or not. Now you have a tremendous amount of variation that will occur.

    It's a nifty report and amazingly enough I question why the DPD leadership had not ordered the officers under there immediate charge to be doing so many of these recommendations already. Where most of the things that should be a gimme to prove the officer was well within the law, the adverse is also true in that without a dash cam running the officer can also sidestep the law and procedures, etc.. etc.. and so on and so forth.

    Once again let me reiterrate we are dealing with the human factor with the varient of are they being humane?

  • Objective Scientist May 1, 2014

    Hmmm... I've always found the charge by some that the Durham Police Dept exhibits racial bias - well - puzzling!!! Is not the Chief Hispanic? What is the breakdown of officers in the Dept? What percent is black, white, Hispanic, Asian, other? It seems that the percentage of black officers is relatively high... and the population of Durham is 41% black, 37-38% white, about 20% all else. Do black officers "profile" black citizens? Do black officers "profile" Hispanics? It seems the complaints of racial bias comes primarily from blacks and Hispanics... is it only the white police officeres who are profiling or exibiting bias? We need a LOT more info than what was in this article... but there is a lot here that does not "make sense". Show me the "evidence"! I'm a bit "tired" of bias claims that cannot be supported by objective evidence. Durham Human Relations Commission... where is your evidence to support racial bias and what is the nature of the bias?

  • hollylama May 1, 2014

    How about understanding more about the layout of the city in particular the demographics of residents in particular areas. This would help with dealing with calls from certain areas so that you don't send non-bilingual officers out to areas where no one speaks English.

  • Caveman93 May 1, 2014

    Everybody and every institution has racial bias...just a fact of life. Sorry, no fixing that.

  • puzzled May 1, 2014

    Whites are not always treated right either in their opinion especially by black officers. Racism is not only white againt black but reversal and other races also.

  • housemanagercary May 1, 2014

    One of the recommendations is to make marijuana arrests a low priority. Seriously? How does that factor into racial bias?

  • Rob Killough May 1, 2014
    user avatar

    Many of the problems I see here are both sides paint too broad a brushstroke when talking about racial issues. 'White people do this', 'Black people do that', etc. Categorically false statements when you try to apply it to an entire group. And many don't have legitimate facts to back up their claims - regardless of which side you are on; it's based on your perception from your personal experiences in life/what your opportunities were growing up. Or, we use #s to back up a claim without taking any other corollary data into account OR considering where that data is coming from.
    Does racial profiling exist in Durham? Any rational person would say yes, of course it does. Whether it's because police officers are human and apply their life experiences to their job without realizing it OR they are truly prejudiced, it doesn't really matter - it is still wrong. Does this invalidate many of the arrests of minorities? No, it probably doesn't.