Durham police practices under microscope by Human Relations Commission

There are increasing calls for the Durham police to be more transparent.
January 23, 2014 3:58:46 AM PST
There are increasing calls for the Durham police to be more transparent. A group of concerned citizens claims Durham officers target blacks and Hispanics more than they do whites.

The city's Human Relations Commission put the police department under a microscope at a meeting Wednesday evening. They heard from a local civil rights group that says most people searched in the Bull City are black.

"We want our Human Relations Commission to say a new Jim Crow in Durham is objectionable," said Attorney Daryl Atkinson with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

Atkinson calls it racist. His group claims last year alone more than 80 percent of motorists that Durham officers searched were black.

"African-American men being 17.5 percent of the city population constitute two-thirds of the search population," said SCSJ Attorney Ian Mance.

Those stats were part of a presentation to highlight alleged racial profiling. The data showing the number of black motorists stopped rose steadily in each of the past five years -- dramatically increasing during Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez's tenure.

"The department currently doesn't have any mechanisms in place to monitor stop data," said Mance.

The findings match those from a group called FADE, which is short for Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement.  

One slide showed former UNC basketball player P.J. Hairston -- tying traffic stops to marijuana arrests -- creating disparity between blacks and whites.

"Clearly, there's some concerns, and if the community feels there's some concerns then there's definitely something to look into," said Jeff Clark, with the Durham Human Relations Commission.

In addition to making marijuana arrests a lesser priority, advocates want officers to get written consents to search vehicles, undergo racial equity training, and have periodic reviews of who they stop.

They are recommendations that could come from the Human Relations Commission.

"All we do is provide recommendations," said Phill Bieb, the vice-chairman of the Durham Human Relations Commission. "It's up to the city council to take our recommendations and turn them into action."

This is the second of three meetings the Human Relations Commission is holding this month. Durham police haven't commented about any of them.

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