Durham police report offers irrelevant detail on local marijuana cases, ignores racial profiling

Most of the people arrested and charged only with misdemeanor marijuana possession in 2013 and the first half of 2014 had prior criminal records, a new report from the Durham Police Department says.
That said, it was much more common for police to stack a possession charge with other, sometimes more serious charges when they caught a person with some pot.
Other drug offenses — everything from paraphernalia possession to trafficking in heroin — are regular pairings with a misdemeanor marijuana charge.
Police commanders drafted the report to answer a query from City Manager Tom Bonfield, who wanted a closer look at why 86 percent of the department’s misdemeanor marijuana-possession arrests from Jan. 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014 were of blacks.
The document, available online at http://bit.ly/1ym8mpM, included maps showing that marijuana arrests were more common in east Durham and a scattered few areas in the northern and western part of the city.
East Durham is predominantly black, a fact that lends itself to the suspicion the department is engaging in racial profiling when it comes to marijuana enforcement.
But the eastern portion of the city also experiences a disproportionate share of the city’s most serious, “Part 1” crimes: homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor-vehicle theft.
The report looked at the actions of officers that preceded an arrest, finding that about 40 percent of the 739 pot-possession busts they made over 18 months were the result of “self-initiated” work of officers.
Another 12 percent followed a complaint by residents.
Of the “self-initiated” busts, 35 percent followed a vehicle stop. The department has acknowledged that officers stop more black motorists than whites.
Department analysts also focused on the pot-only arrests out of the 739, a subgroup of 191 cases that targeted 182 different people.
Of those, seven were arrested twice on pot-possession charge in the 18 months, and one person was arrested three times.
Criminal-background checks found that 143 of the 182 — about 79 percent — had been arrested at least once before being picked up on the marijuana charge.
Forty eight of the 143 were already convicted felons.
Collectively, the 143 had 908 previous arrests and 402 convictions.
“Put another way, nearly four in five persons charged with only misdemeanor marijuana possession had been arrested on average 6.35 times each before the marijuana offense,” the report said.
Department and city officials have spent much of the last year and a half dealing with racial-profiling allegations raised by groups like the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement.
Fostering Alternatives — also known by the acronym FADE — advocates deprioritizing marijuana-law enforcement, on the grounds that a single possession charge can end up becoming a lifetime barrier to employment or housing.