DURHAM (WTVD) --Speaking out for the first time since releasing a lengthy report in response to allegations of racial bias, Durham city manager Tom Bonfield both praised the police department and talked about its problems.
"The public trust is an awesome responsibility," said Bonfield.
City leaders admit there are "unexplained racial disparities" and lingering concerns about the culture within Durham's police department.
"The mass incarceration of young African American men is one of the greatest--if not the greatest-- challenge facing our society," said Councilman Steve Schewel.
Another council member questioned how Durham recruits its officers.
"We need to look at the content of our orientation so that the people that come to work for us understand this is local government it is not an arm of the military," added Cora Cole McFadden.
Members of several advocacy groups were among the standing room only crowd. They told the city council that police policy changes requiring written consent searches for homes -- not necessarily traffic stops -- aren't enough.
"There is reason to think that a written consent policy for patrol officers would make a significant difference in those disparities," said Ian Mance with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, adding that the policy has worked for other police departments.
The issue of written consent search forms will be an ongoing conversation.
"I understand the concerns for disparities and profiling," said Bonfield when asked why he won't require written consent for all traffic stops and searches. "I don't believe the issue specifically about whether something is written or not gets to that question."
The question of whether community relations can heal yields different answers from both critics and even those in charge.
One concerned citizen asked the crowd to raise their hands if they believe the Durham Police Department is racially biased, while another warned against judging officers too harshly.
"I believe the Durham Police Department and its officers have been unfairly accused of being racist by a few people in the community," he told the city council.
The department's command staff will participate in racial equity training in October. The goal is to train the entire police force of about 500 officers.
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