Durham police deny claims of racial profiling during traffic stops

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The Durham Police Department is rejecting racial profiling claims despite a racial disparity in traffic stops and searches.

The numbers, released on Thursday, show that of the drivers in the 21,939 traffic stops in 2014, 58.7 percent were black, 38.5 percent were white and 2.8 percent were another race. In comparison to the city’s demographic population, 40 percent are black, 48.3 percent are white and 11.7 percent are other.

Durham police say a disparity doesn’t always mean there is racial profiling. Durham has similar rates of racial disparity for traffic stops and searches as other major cities in North Carolina, according to police.

“There may be a disparity, but the bias isn’t there,” said Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez. “But we are aggressively looking to see if there is any bias so we can address it.”

Durham police also say the disparity is due to crimes and calls occurring in the highest minority population. This leads to a higher level of policing and more traffic stops in these areas, police say.

“The vast majority of our traffic stops are occurring in the high crime area, which are heavily minority. It’s those areas we’re trying to control crime,” said Deputy Chief Larry Smith of the Durham Police Department.

During traffic stops, 7.7 percent of black drivers were searched, according to the report. That’s compared to the 2.7 percent of white drivers and 4.6 percent of Latino drivers.

The Durham police released and addressed the numbers in part because of a 2014 report by the City of Durham asking the department to “increase trust, accountability and transparency.”

The report, given by the city’s Human Relations Commission, was performed after multiple incidents with the police department.

One of the concerns was racial profiling.

The report noted that in Durham, the vast majority of citizens arrested misdemeanor marijuana charges were black.

From Jan. 1, 2013, to July 1, 2014, the report said, 86 percent of people arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana were black and 13.7 percent were white.

Lopez says the department is making more of an effort to evaluate and monitor officers to make sure racial profiling does not exist.

Body cameras, which will soon be implemented within the department, will help with that process, he says.

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