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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dissent in the ranks: Three members of Durham Human Relations Commission issue "minority report"

Posted by on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 10:53 AM

For more than a year, the atmosphere in Durham between many residents and police has been tense. Much of this it stems from a spate of officer-related shootings, allegations of racial profiling and other incidents regarding DPD’s use of force.

That tension has spilled over to the city’s 15-member Human Relations Commission  On Monday, three members—Richard Ford, Misty Odell and Jeffrey Clark—issued their minority report on many of the central points in the HRC’s official report and recommendations. The HRC delivered that report to City Council on May 22.

“Our reasons for dissent stem from our concerns that some recommendations may create more divisiveness within our community,” the report reads.

Human Relations Commission Minority Report

Human Relations Commission Minority Report Human_Relations_Commission_majority_report.pdf

Ford, Odell and Clark clarified that the comments within their report are personal views and do not represent the HRC’s.

While the HRC is a nonpartisan board of appointees, it is worth noting that Odell, has been a field director with the conservative group Americans for Prosperity since April, according to her LinkedIn profileFord is a Republican activist and a precinct chairman in Durham. Both are white.

Jeffrey Clark is an investigations captain with the town of Chapel Hill Police Department. He is African-American.

[This paragraph has been clarified.] The minority report, as it’s known, disagrees with the HRC’s conclusion that the department engages in racial bias and profiling. It took issue with the speakers the HRC “selected to appear”  over the past six months, as part of a comprehensive program with the city to educate the public about their rights and their avenues of redress. The minority objected because these groups—the FADE Coalition, the NAACP and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice—had brought allegations against the police. 
However, there have been instances in which people in support of DPD also spoke.

Some of the conclusions in the original HRC report echo those presented by the FADE Coalition, the Durham chapter of the NAACP and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice  Those groups have criticized the police department at hearings sponsored by the HRC and the Civilian Police Review Board.

During several public hearings held by the HRC over the past seven months, many Durham residents complained that they had been the victims of racial profiling at traffic stops. The HRC recommended that traffic stop data be evaluated by independent, qualified analysts. It also suggested that officers get written consent from people whom they ask to search.

Yet such data, the minority report reads, is difficult to interpret. “Until virtually the end of the Commission’s deliberations [on April 29], the commission agreed to language stating that the commission lacked expertise to evaluate this data.”

And the search paperwork would increase the workload on officers, the report said. In other communities, police “give up on enforcement,” when required to adhere to “onerous,” “meaningless” or “duplicative regulations.”

One of the long-standing criticisms about DPD investigations deals with the limited powers of the Durham Civilian Police Review Board.  It investigates how DPD’s Internal Affairs Department conducted its own probe of complaints against the department. But based on citizen feedback, the HRC recommended that the Civilian Police Review Board have greater authority to investigate the actual police actions that led to the complaint, not just DPD’s internal review of that action.

In addition the Civilian Police Review Board reports to the city manager, as does the police chief, which, some residents have noted, could create a conflict of interest.

The HRC had recommended that the board report to City Council. The minority report calls for no change in the board’s role nor its chain of command.

Phillip Seib, an HRC commission member who voted with the majority, told the INDY that while it is important for “our democracy to have a method for those not in the majority to voice their opinions … the minority report should not replace the narrative of what the Human Relations Commission was stating in our recommendations … or in anyway impede the progress of the deliberations of the city leadership.”

Seib emphasized he was not speaking on behalf of the commission and that his comments were of his personal views.

He also noted that the official HRC report was a product of negotiation: “Did any one commissioner get every concern they proposed? No.”

Last month, Mayor Bill Bell asked City Manager Tom Bonfield to deliver a timetable for a recommended course of action based on both reports—to Durham City Council on June 16.

That study is still scheduled to be released to Council on Monday, said Amy Blalock, senior public affairs specialist for the city.

“Now that the minority report is in and all commissioners have publicly expressed their view, I think it's time for everyone to redirect their focus back on the city leadership, the Durham Police Department's leadership and the citizens of Durham efforts to craft a new frame work that will reflect the Human Relations Commission's recommendations and concerns,” Seib said.

Read previous coverage of the HRC, the Civilian Police Review Board and DPD:
"Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez says no racial bias exists in his department; Human Relations Commission disagrees"

"No expanded authority for Durham Civilian Police Review Board"

"Durham citizens air policing grievances before Human Relations Commission"

"Power failures"

"Questions for Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez—and his answers"

"Durham gathers to honor Jesús Huerta"

"Durham Police chatter reveals what officers knew about Jesus Huerta's mental state"

"DA: No charges against officer involved in Ocampo shooting"

"No charges against cop"

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