Success In Campaign Against Durham PD Racial Profiling

We are glad to report that the campaign against racial profiling in Durham has begun to result in important and concrete changes to departmental policies. It was one year ago this week that SCSJ joined its partners in the FADE coalition in marching from the Durham Police Department to the steps of City Hall. On the afternoon of September 16, 2013, organizers took turns reading a list of community grievances with the Durham PD. Chief among them were allegations of racial profiling and a pattern and practice of illegal searches and excessive force against minority communities. The demonstration was organized in the wake of the recent police shooting of Honduran immigrant Jose Adan Ocampo and the arrest of Carlos Riley, Jr., and happened just one day before 26-year old Derek Walker was shot to death by police at CCB plaza, during an incident captured by area news cameras.
A few weeks later, on October 17, 2013, the FADE coalition issued a formal letter to the city, outlining a list of specific policy recommendations designed to change the culture of Durham policing, end the use of racial profiling practices, and promote institutional accountability. The recommendations were developed through a series of community meetings and listening sessions in the most directly impacted neighborhoods, as well as by conducting a nationwide survey of best practices for reducing incidents of racialized policing. The package of reforms, which came to be known as the “FADE recommendations,” and which ultimately came to enjoy widespread support from a diverse-array of Durham organizations and congregations, included the following policy proposals:

  • Mandate the use of written consent-to-search forms for all searches in which officers lack probable cause or reason to believe a person is armed and dangerous;
  • Designate marijuana enforcement the city’s lowest law enforcement priority, given the highly discriminatory way in which the current law is enforced;
  • Require periodic audits of individual officer stop, search and arrest data to monitor for and detect officers who are engaging in racially discriminatory law enforcement practices;
  • Mandate that all Durham police officers participate in formal racial equity training;
  • Reform the ineffective Durham Civilian Police Review Board, which, in its ten years of existence has yet to rule in favor of a civilian.
  • A year later, we are pleased to report that most of these recommendations have either been formally implemented by the City Manager or are well on their way to being implemented.

    Much work remains to be done with regard to the Civilian Review Board, but there have been some tangible improvements to even that institution—the most notable of which gives the City Council, and thus the public, a say in Board appointments, a responsibility which had previously rested exclusively with the City Manager.
    The story of how this came to be—and of all the amazing community members, organizations, and congregations who had a hand in making it happen—will be the subject of a future blog post. For present purposes, it’s enough to say that this was a true community-based effort from day one and these reforms never would have happened but for the abiding commitment of a great many people, who came together for the common purpose of demanding a police department that is fair in its treatment of the community it serves and committed to principles of nondiscriminatory policing.
    So where exactly do we stand?

    As of October 1st, Durham will join Austin, TX, and Fayetteville, NC, as one of the first cities in the country to mandate that police obtain the informed, written consent of motorists before undertaking non-probable cause based searches.

    This is a significant and hard fought change, and one that we expect to bear immediate results in reducing the incidence of invasive vehicle searches, 82% of which involved black motorists in 2013. Before searching a vehicle without probable cause, police will now have to inform motorists of their right to refuse by way of a form that the driver must sign before the search can proceed. Following the adoption of written consent in Fayetteville in 2012, traffic stops dropped by 50% and searches by 60%, according to a review of records conducted by the Fayetteville Observer.

    On the issue of marijuana enforcement, and in response to community demands, Mayor Bill Bell has announced a convening of the city’s Chief District Court Judge, District Attorney, Sheriff, Police Chief, and Manager to explore the use of “diversion and treatment programs” in order to “reduce the criminal and financial impact” of marijuana arrests.

    Multiple City Council members publicly announced their support for outright “decriminalization” of the drug and their belief that the city should officially “deprioritize” its enforcement if decriminalization is deemed impractical by city lawyers, given the existence of North Carolina General Statutes that continue to criminalize possession. This particular initiative will take time to implement, given all the different players involved, but the city’s commitment towards ending the racially discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws is nonetheless a very encouraging first step in the right direction.

    The City Manager also announced his support of the 3rd FADE recommendation of using officer stop and search data for management purposes.

    Starting January 31, 2015, Durham PD General Order 1050 will be amended to include the regular analysis of officer “stop/search data as a referral activity to the Professional Excellence Program” and for purposes of “annual performance reviews.” This policy change, like written consent, should produce immediate results once it goes into effect next year, as officers will, for the first time, know that their stop and search data is being routinely scrutinized for racialized policing patterns and compared to peer officers, assigned to similar beats, for identification of any anomalous stop or search activity.
    As for racial equity training, the city has agreed to require that all current and future officers participate in formal racial equity training, currently scheduled to be conducted under the auspices of the Fair and Impartial Policing Program. We have concerns about the selection of this particular training program, given its predominant focus on unconscious, or implicit, bias. The program does not appear to include a holistic assessment of department orders, directives and protocols that, though perhaps well-intentioned, may be combining to produce the sort of highly racialized outcomes that prompted the community to bring its concerns to the city in the first place. We will continue to press the city to participate in additional race equity work and we have already received a commitment from at least one City Councilman to investigate the possibility of bringing in the Center for Policing Equity, based in Los Angeles, to conduct a department-wide assessment.
    Click here to read the City Manager’s latest report.
    Post by SCSJ’s Ian Mance, Attorney & Soros Justice Fellow