DUPD officers rarely use force, department says, but internal records unavailable

Third in a series on use of force by Duke law enforcement officers. Read the first and second parts, which focus on the two times officers have used deadly force.

Duke University Police Department officers rarely used force in recent years, according to the University police chief—although few documents about DUPD use of force are available due to state law that restricts what police departments can release. 

In response to a request from The Chronicle, DUPD Chief John Dailey provided a summary of how officers have used force, as well as arrest reports for each instance. He wrote in an email that the law prevents the department from releasing internal reports about how force was used in each case. 

DUPD officers used force while making an arrest eight times between March 2015 and June 2021, Dailey wrote. Per Dailey, officers used force mostly by pushing or grabbing people who were attempting to avoid arrest, but one officer used pepper spray after a person bit him.

Three of the people arrested when force was used were Black men and five were white men, he wrote.

“Fortunately there were not any injuries during these incidents,” Dailey wrote.

Dailey provided arrest reports for each incident in which force was used in the five years prior to December 2020, as well as for an additional arrest from June 2021. These reports do not contain any information about the use of force in those arrests. 

Although he confirmed that all uses of physical force by officers are “reported, documented and analyzed,” including a review of body-camera footage, Dailey wrote that the law prevents the release of internal reports on use of force. 

Dailey also did not give data on whether there had been complaints against officers for excessive force or provide documents relating to those complaints. He wrote that officers rarely use force, wear body cameras and are trained in de-escalation.

State law requires police departments in North Carolina, including ones tied to colleges and universities, to disclose certain information related to arrests and criminal incidents. That includes the names of people who are arrested and “whether the arrest involved resistance, possession or use of weapons, or pursuit.”

But it’s against the law to release personnel records to unauthorized people, except for a rarely used exemption that lets a police department head release them to maintain public trust in the department, according to Brooks Fuller, director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition. Use-of-force reports, excessive-force complaints and officers’ conduct records likely qualify as personnel records, Fuller wrote in an email.

Dailey did not specify what law prevents DUPD from releasing use-of-force reports, but several N.C. law enforcement agencies told reporters last year that they consider use-of-force reports personnel records, including the police departments in Raleigh and Durham. 

Departments can release some aggregate data about officers’ use of force, which the Raleigh and Durham police departments do.

The Duke Black Coalition Against Policing, a student activist group, has demanded the release of  “comprehensive, disaggregated data” on the “use of force with regard to demographic information, including but not limited to race, nationality, gender, mental health/disability and geographic location,” as well as conduct reports for current DUPD officers.

BCAP alleges a “history of police violence” at Duke, including arrests of gay men in the 1960s by a DUPD precursor and the 2010 fatal shooting of Durham resident Aaron Lorenzo Dorsey.

Dailey told The Chronicle when the demands were released that DUPD works toward “a safe and just community that allows Duke University to provide education, research and healthcare that helps the world.”

DUPD’s use-of-force policy

DUPD’s use-of-force policy, available online, requires that officers “respond to resistance or aggression in a manner that is objectively reasonable, necessary and proportional to the threat or resistance of the subject.”

“Officers must perform their duties professionally, with respect for others and in a manner which endeavors to protect and preserve life,” the policy states. 

The policy instructs officers to use de-escalation techniques before they use physical force “when it is safe and does not compromise law enforcement objectives.” 

It bans chokeholds and similar techniques except in a lethal force situation, and it requires that officers use tasers only on people who are engaged in assaultive behavior, such as striking an officer. 

The policy details when officers can use lethal force, including to protect an officer or another person from the threat of death or serious injury. Before officers use lethal force, the policy requires that they identify themselves as law enforcement, order a person to stop the activity that allows lethal force to be used under the policy and give a warning, when it is “safe and feasible” to do so. 

Officers have a duty to intervene to stop excessive force by another officer when they can safely and reasonably do so, and to provide medical aid or request emergency medical services after the use of force.

DUPD’s website states that the policy meets the recommendations of Campaign Zero’s “8cantwait” campaign. Those tenets include requiring de-escalation, requiring officers to give a verbal warning before using deadly force and banning chokeholds and strangleholds.

Under the policy, officers have to notify their supervisor of an incident involving the use of force and fill out an incident report. The supervisor must then conduct a preliminary investigation.

The supervisor must notify the department’s chief after incidents that involve the use of a firearm or taser or result in serious injury or death. The chief can request that the State Bureau of Investigations review those incidents. 

People can report concerns about officers’ use of force to DUPD, Duke’s compliance hotline or the State Bureau of Investigations, Dailey wrote.

What the reports show

The arrest reports Dailey provided include the alleged crimes for which suspects were arrested and the first initials and last names of the arresting officers, but they do not include information on use of force. There is a “narrative” field at the bottom of each report, but none were filled out. 

The dates and charges from the police reports are as follows:

  • March 12, 2015: Resisting arrest (misdemeanor)
  • Feb. 12, 2016: Assault inflicting serious bodily injury, larceny (both felonies)
  • July 22, 2017: Trespass (misdemeanor)
  • Nov. 15, 2017: Assault and battery, drunk and disruptive, resisting arrest (all misdemeanors)
  • Dec. 7, 2017: Assault on a campus police officer (misdemeanor)
  • Feb. 21, 2018: Breaking and entering (felony), possession of stolen goods (misdemeanor), possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor)
  • July 7, 2019: Breaking or entering, resisting arrest (misdemeanors)
  • June 7, 2021: Trespassing, resisting arrest (misdemeanors)

All of the people who were arrested were unarmed. 

Changes to come?

North Carolina’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice recommended in December 2020 that state law be changed to give local governments or civilian police oversight boards access to personnel records.  Those changes haven’t happened yet.

For now, Fuller says the public remains “largely in the dark” about police conduct.

“We as a public are woefully under-informed about what our police do, on both a day-to-day basis and on a systemic basis,” he said in an interview.

Getting any information—like the summary data Dailey provided, is good—he said. 

“There's a lot that we can learn about how policing affects communities that we don't know,” Fuller said. “It's not their legal obligation to do that kind of work, but it certainly would be beneficial.”

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin was editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 116th volume.


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