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Durham City Manager: 'In Some Areas, Unexplained Racial Disparities Do Exist'

Photo: Rows of people, the Durham City Council and Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield
Jorge Valencia

The Durham city manager presented the city council recommendations in a packed hearing on Thursday to improve the relationship between the police and minority groups.

It's a long-awaited response to an investigation by the city's Human Relations Commission on claims that the police targets minorities. In his report, city manager Tom Bonfield had some clear findings.

"Our review and the data tells us in some areas, unexplained racial disparities do exist," Bonfield said to the council.

Bonfield recommends that police prepare a semi-annual analysis of traffic stop data, at least partially in response to reports that police stop black men more than anyone else.

"Meetings Durham's community standards, expectations and aspirations regarding safety, justice and equity will take a dialogue and collaboration between the entirety of the local criminal justice system," Bonfield said.

But Ian Mance, an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, says that to foster trust from residents, that is simply a good start.

"The solutions that he's proposed are not going to be sufficient," Mance told the council.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell and members of the council said Thursday they hadn't yet reviewed Bonfield's 34 recommendations, which were explained in a 131-page report he issued on Monday. But among them, he recommended that police prepare a semi-anual analysis of traffic stop data, and that officers be required to obtain written consent to search a home - but not for the search of a vehicle.

Mance and community groups said they wanted police to be required to get written consent to search cars because it would curtail the number of searches on cars driven by black men, which they say are disproportionately targeted.

"I dare say that if our white fellow citizens were subject to these statistics, no one would be discussing the challenges a piece of paper would present to situational control," said Mark-Anthony Middleton, pastor of Abundant Hope Christian Church.

The council could act on the recommendations as soon as next month. Bell said he wants minorities to regain trust for the police department.

"This is going to be an ongoing issue, in terms of trying to find the solutions," Bell said. "It's not going to happen overnight. Even if we accepted everything that the manager recommended, accepted everything that you recommended, it's not going to fix the problem."

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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