Southern Coalition for Social Justice unearths evidence of Durham police misconduct, racial profilingThe Durham Police Department has come under fire from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Durham Fostering Alternatives to Drug Enforcement Coalition following claims of racial profiling and unethically paying informants.
The SCSJ and Durham FADE Coalition have unearthed evidence that the DPD pays unconstitutional conviction bonuses to undercover informants in drug cases, creates license checkpoints for drug interdiction and uses federal grant money to fund undercover marijuana buys in black neighborhoods.
Assistant Chief of Police Jon Peter denied the accusations that the department racially profiles drug arrests after two attorneys produced documents that marijuana arrests have increased 70 percent since Police Chief Jose Lopez took office, with the vast majority of those arrested being black.
"Durham really stood out like a sore thumb. It had one of the largest racial disparities in the state, with respect to African American drivers," said Ian Mance, a Soros Justice Fellow and civil rights attorney from SCSJ who compiled the evidence.
He noted that SCSJ uploaded search data from the State Bureau of Investigation database. From a total of more that 15 million recorded traffic stops, he said it was clear that Durham had an abnormal stop practice, with a very high rate of stopping African American drivers.
Following this red flag that DPD's practices fell outside of the norm, the SCSJ began investigating more of the department records.
One of the most disturbing finds, Mance said, was that the department pays secret cash rewards to drug informants based on the effectiveness of their testimonies or cooperation.
Although it is DPD's policy to pay informants for working on these higher level cases, an official statement maintained that the amount of these bonuses does not depend on if a conviction is achieved.
"The Durham Police Department denies any unethical or illegal activity as it relates to the paying of bonuses to confidential informants," the statement read. "The Police Department has never paid for convictions, only cooperation through case completion."
In a memo obtained by The Chronicle from Peter to Chief Assistant District Attorney Roger Echols dated Feb. 18, he noted that it is a common law enforcement practice nationally to not pay confidential informants until after trials are concluded.
"I have no concerns about there being integrity issues related to bonus payments for [confidential informants] after case completion," the memo stated.
The department is asking their police attorney to review practices to ensure that there are no procedural or legal issues in how they handle informants and their payment.
"They haven't had a lot of time to respond. We threw a lot of information at them in a very short period of time. I want to give them the opportunity to review the information and do their own investigation before we do anything further," Mance said.
A June 2012 study written by Frank Baumgartner—Richard J. Richardson Professor of political science—alleged racial disparities in traffic stops, searches and arrests in Durham. In the study, he reported that in Durham county, black drivers were 162 percent more likely to be stopped for a seat belt violation than a white driver. The study also found that blacks are 77 percent more likely than whites to be searched at a traffic stop.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote to Frank Baumgartner. The Chronicle regrets the error.