Durham Sheriff's Office takes on racial equity training, hiring of more deputies

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead is taking another step to change the culture at his sheriff's office.

He announced that all of his sworn deputies will receive racial equity training despite admitting he has not seen any evidence of inequities.

"Have I witnessed things that I thought were inequitable or inequitable treatment? I can't say that I have," Birkhead said. "But I know that it's right beneath the surface."

It's an issue top of mind statewide and across the Triangle.

ABC11 I-Team reporter Jonah Kaplan exposed the disparity last summer -- showing Black drivers in cuffs during traffic stops at a far higher rate than Whites.

According to the attorney for the Durham County Sheriff's Office, so far, the agency has not had any racial discrimination complaints since Birkhead took office in 2018.

A handful of deputies are receiving racial equity training through the Government Alliance on Racial Equity, also known as GARE.

Those six officers will then take what they have learned and train deputies agencywide by the end of the year.

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a few other high-profile killings of unarmed Black men and women, Birkhead said he realizes that the community's faith and trust in law enforcement are damaged.

"The current state of law enforcement is very tense, and we have to do all we can to get past that tension, do a self-examination, and really be committed to bringing the change that the community is demanding," Birkhead said.

The sheriff said he believes the race equity training is a continuation of his existing reforms in his department's use-of-force policies such as the eliminating chokeholds.

According to the Sheriff's Office, 59% of Durham County deputies are White, 36% are Black and 5% make up other races or ethnicities. Those numbers are generally in line for Durham County, where according to the Census Bureau's latest estimates, 54% of residents are White and 36.9% are Black.

The agency is training and hiring, too. On Thursday, the sheriff's office is holding a career fair onsite at the department's office from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Those who wish to apply must be at least 21 years old, with a high school diploma or GED, a valid driver's license and no felony record to qualify.

ABC11 has also learned that Fayetteville Police and Durham Police employees have had classes in racial equity. A spokesperson said all officers will be updated in Fair and Impartial Policing by the end of June.
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