Durham Chief Addresses Shootings, Disparities, and Pot During First Crime Report | News
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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Durham Chief Addresses Shootings, Disparities, and Pot During First Crime Report

Posted by on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 12:46 PM

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The problems that permeated Jose Lopez's tenure as Durham's police chief spilled over in C.J. Davis's time as police chief—and rightly so. 

It's been seventy-one days since Davis took her oath of office, and on Monday night, she showed the city council she has the chops to address problems that were placed on her shoulders after years of mistrust between the police and community. 

Violent crime in Durham has been on the rise for most of the past two years, but the first six months of 2016 saw a slight (and we're talking slight) drop in violent crime. The less than one percent decrease was the first drop in violent crime since the fourth quarter of 2013. 

2016 Second Quarter Crime.pdf
"We suspect that gang activity is associated with much of the violent crime that we are seeing," Davis said. "We are dedicating resources to gang intervention."   

City councilman Steve Schewel, after praising Davis's work so far, didn't waste any time getting to the meat of the issues she inherited. 

"One of the things over the last few years that I think the department has no done as well as it ought to is, in at least in a couple of cases," Schewel said. "We've had two young men, both suicidal, one with a gun and one with (an Airsoft gun). Both of those men died at the hands of our police officers, after what I would consider a very short time ... In my mind neither of them had to die." 

The two cases highlighted were the deaths of Derek Walker and La'Vante Biggs. 

Walker was shot and killed in C.C.B. Plaza downtown in September 2013. He was going through a bitter custody battle, and instead of going to work one day he took a gun and went to the plaza and threatened to shoot himself. At one point he pointed the gun at an officer, and well, we know how the story ends. He was twenty-six years old. 

Almost two years later, twenty-one-year-old La'Vante Biggs was shot in the front yard of his mother's house. He too had been expressing suicidal thoughts, and officers believed he had a real gun on him. However, once Biggs had already been shot, it was determined the weapon was actually an Airsoft gun. 

Schewel doesn't blame the officers that fired shots, but he wants to know what the department is doing to make sure more preventable deaths don't happen. 

"Loss of life is of a concern for all of us," Davis said. "I think training is going to be important for our officers. I think that just to have that level of oversight and involvement for senior level officials will help us tremendously." 

Councilman Charlie Reece backed Schewel's concerns and wanted to make sure officers have "every tool that they need to make sure that those encounters don't end with fatalities." 

And when it comes to traffic stop disparities, the department has been open about the problems that persist, and in fact had RTI International study its traffic stop data. Schewel, while discussing the study which found black men are twenty percent more likely to be pulled over during the day time than they are at night, wanted to know what proactive measures it was taking to address the implicit biases. 

With multiple types of implicit bias training be available, she thinks "there has to be constant reminders that we should be in a culture of tolerance." 

And as the FADE Coalition continues to push for the deprioritization of misdemeanor marijuana charges, Schewel wanted to know where Davis stood in that fight. 

"There are, and I know the department has worked to de-emphasize this for some time, but yet we still see a lot of people being arrested, and a lot of arrests being made for this," the councilman said. 

While the police department already utilizes a misdemeanor diversion program for some cases, it's not catchalls, and leaders in the department are looking at how to best use it.

"Now, whether or not (the programs) are being utilized on a large scale throughout the department is part of what we have to do an analysis of," she said. "Are the officers around the entire police department referring individuals in the diversion programs. We know that most of our young people that are arrested are African-American young men especially as it relates to small amounts of marijuana." 

The department is looking at if the misdemeanor possession charge is the "single case by itself" or if its a consequence of a higher crime. 

"We have to enforce in a way that is equitable throughout the city, you know targeting certain community you will reap what it is you are sowing," she said. "Our practices have to change as it relates to what our presence looks like in communities." 

Councilman Eddie Davis said the low-level arrests need to be dealt with in a proactive way in order to make sure young people don't have a blemish on their record. 

"So many people aren't able to do things because they have (records)," Eddie Davis said. 

Reece expressed concern for two high crime areas in District 1, and wanted to make sure the chief was taking the chance to look at how to best allocate sources to the areas that need them the most. 

"Making sure that we have enough resources, as you said in your presentation, to respond to call effectively, is what's going to help rebuild that relationship—relationships of trust and confidence between the police and the people of the city," Reece said. 

Mayor Bill Bell, put Davis on the spot as he finished up comments from council. 

"Tell me what is your biggest disappointment since coming here, and biggest surprise," he said. 

Davis said her biggest disappointment there wasn't as much "collaboration or I would say conversation, which I think is really so critical, to have conversations about issues." 

Her biggest surprise? How much Durham was growing. 

"There is something here for everybody. It's a smaller city, but there is so much going on." 

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