The New York Times – Activists Wield Search Data to Challenge and Change Police Policy

The New York Times

Activists Wield Search Data to Challenge and Change Police Policy

By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.  NOV. 20, 2014

Jose L. Lopez Sr., police chief of Durham, N.C., has defended the conduct of his department. Credit Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

DURHAM, N.C. — One month after a Latino youth died from a gunshot as he sat handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser here last year, 150 demonstrators converged on Police Headquarters, some shouting “murderers” as baton-wielding officers in riot gear fired tear gas.

The police say the youth shot himself with a hidden gun. But to many residents of this city, which is 40 percent black, the incident fit a pattern of abuse and bias against minorities that includes frequent searches of cars and use of excessive force. In one case, a black female Navy veteran said she was beaten by an officer after telling a friend she was visiting that the friend did not have to let the police search her home.

Yet if it sounds as if Durham might have become a harbinger of Ferguson, Mo. — where the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer led to weeks of protests this summer — things took a very different turn. Rather than relying on demonstrations to force change, a coalition of ministers, lawyers and community and political activists turned instead to numbers. They used an analysis of state data from 2002 to 2013 that showed that the Durham police searched black male motorists at more than twice the rate of white males during stops. Drugs and other illicit materials were found no more often on blacks.

After having initially rejected protesters’ demands, the city abruptly changed course and agreed to require the police, beginning last month, to obtain written consent to search vehicles in cases where they do not have probable cause. The consent forms, in English and Spanish, tell drivers they do not have to allow the searches.

“Without the data, nothing would have happened,” said Steve Schewel, a Durham City Council member who had pushed for the change.

The protests in Ferguson — which may return in force when a grand jury decides whether to indict the police officer — may yet help rewrite the relationship between the police and communities there and in other cities. But what quietly played out in Durham may provide another model for activists: using stop and search data collected by an increasing number of cities and states to galvanize supporters and pressure departments to change policies.

The use of statistics is gaining traction not only in North Carolina, where data on police stops is collected under a 15-year-old law, but in other cities around the country.

Austin, Tex., began requiring written consent for searches without probable cause two years ago, after its independent police monitor reported that whites stopped by the police were searched one in every 28 times, while blacks were searched one in eight times.

In Kalamazoo, Mich., a city-funded study last year found that black drivers were nearly twice as likely to be stopped, and then “much more likely to be asked to exit their vehicle, to be handcuffed, searched and arrested.”

As a result, Jeff Hadley, the public safety chief of Kalamazoo, imposed new rules requiring officers to explain to supervisors what “reasonable suspicion” they had each time they sought a driver’s consent to a search. Traffic stops have declined 42 percent amid a drop of more than 7 percent in the crime rate, he said.

“It really stops the fishing expeditions,” Chief Hadley said of the new rules. Though the findings demoralized his officers, he said, the reaction from the African-American community stunned him. “I thought they would be up in arms, but they said: ‘You’re not telling us anything we didn’t already know. How can we help?’ ”

The School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a new manual for defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges, with a chapter that shows how stop and search data can be used by the defense to raise challenges in cases where race may have played a role.

The Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton paired abuse anecdotes with records of Durham police stops. CreditJeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

In one recent case, the public defender representing a Hispanic man on cocaine trafficking charges in Orange County, N.C., got a dismissal after presenting the prosecutor with evidence that Hispanics — while only 8 percent of the local population — had received more than half of the hundreds of warnings issued by the sheriff’s deputy who had made the arrest. The deputy had testified that he stopped the man’s truck for a minor traffic infraction. The prosecutor said multiple factors led to the dismissal.

Defense lawyers’ raising the issue “is gathering steam,” said Alyson Grine, a lecturer at U.N.C. who trains defenders and is an author of the new manual. Several North Carolina police chiefs, she added, have even begun to use the data to sit down with individual officers and examine their search patterns as part of routine management.

Traffic stop data is so powerful a tool for analyzing police behavior that many police departments have begun participating in such studies. More than 50 departments have expressed a desire to take part in a database of traffic stop and search data by the Center for Policing Equity.

Phillip Atiba Goff, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and visiting scholar at Harvard who is compiling the database, said he hoped that by standardizing how the data is collected, police departments that serve economically and demographically similar communities could compare their patterns of behavior to national trends.

The U.N.C. political science professor who processed and analyzed much of the data used by activists in Durham, Frank R. Baumgartner, was careful to make it clear that the figures by themselves were not proof of profiling or intent, though the disparities in searches were so large they called out for investigation. In the spring, the city’s own human relations commission found “the existence of racial bias and profiling present in the Durham Police Department practices.” Other national experts say traffic stop numbers alone do not account for departments that understandably spend more time in high-crime areas, or for commuter demographics significantly different from the composition of neighborhoods.

Durham, home to Duke University, has a rich history of civil rights and social movements, a legacy reflected in the well-organized coalition that pushed for changes. Activists agreed not to call for the resignations of any police or city officials, who could be replaced with more politically savvy executives who might still resist changes. They pressed instead for systemic changes no matter who was in charge. Written consent to search, they said, would reduce disparities and end coercive tactics that the police used to search even in the absence of true, willing consent.

“We were shaming them, and saying, ‘We’re tired of you all talking about how progressive Durham is,’ ” said Ian A. Mance, a lawyer for the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice, part of the broader group that pushed to reduce the imbalance in searches.

In city hearings and at news conferences, the activists paired abuse allegations with the search data.

“We started with the anecdotes, and then added the scholarship,” said the Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton, pastor of Abundant Hope Christian Church and one of the leaders of a prominent community group, the Durham Congregations, Associations & Neighborhoods. “We didn’t allow the conversation to devolve into one person’s job.”

Pastor Middleton said community groups remained prepared to work with the chief of police, Jose L. Lopez Sr. “But he has to understand who runs the city,” he added. “He sure does now.”

Chief Lopez remains frustrated at the data’s effects. He believes it was widely misinterpreted to demonstrate something far worse than the numbers showed. City leaders had instructed the police over the last decade to focus more attention on high-crime areas, which in many cases were predominantly black. So of course, police supporters said, blacks were subjected to stops at a higher rate.

“Think about this,” Chief Lopez said. “You have a Puerto Rican police chief in the City of Durham, and you are going to accuse him of racism?”

What is clear, he says, is that departments will have to learn to crunch numbers in order to deflect charges of bias as community groups use their own data presentations to press leaders to curtail police tactics, just as in Durham.

“The pendulum has swung from ‘We trust the police’ to ‘We don’t trust what you say, and you better prove it to us,’ ” Chief Lopez said. “Every police department right now is either putting together data or looking for ways to enhance it, or looking for funding, in order to get on the metric bandwagon as a way of being able to explain what they do and why they do it, and also to prove they’re not doing what they are accused of doing.”

A version of this article appears in print on November 21, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Wielding Search Data to Change Police Policy.  Order ReprintsToday’s Paper|Subscribe

The Triangle Tribune – Durham CAN celebrates progress

The Triangle Tribune    The Tringle’s choice for the black voice                               Week of November 2, 2014    Volume 16 No. 16    By Latisha Catchatoorian

Durham CAN celebrates progress

DURHAM – The Emily K Center Auditorium was home to almost 500 people for a town-hall type meeting to hear from Durham Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods. Durham CAN is a nonpartisan grassroots organization that works to strengthen the local community.

Tuesday night it celebrated and recognized recent victories in education, job training, public safety and affordable housing, and to also cast future visions. Durham CAN has achieved a lot in 2014, including launching a comprehensive early plan for affordable housing around the transit station, beginning a review of the zoning incentives for affordable housing,

Durham Public Schools expanding the Universal Free Breakfast program to all students in the district, the city council’s recently implemented recommendations on police profiling, and more.

Kingdom Harvest Ministries Pastor Herbert R. Davis said CAN is here so that Durham can have a safer community, affordable places to call home, equal access to the transit system, and access to jobs and a livable wage.

“We are here because we recognize the power of collective people working for a united purpose,” he said. “So what you are about to see today is the process and the effort of a mediating institution that has negotiated with government and businesses in order to ensure that Durham becomes a better place, not just for those who are already at the table, but for those who don’t even know a table exists.”

Rosa S. Anderson said the church she belongs to believes that people can make a difference if they pull together and are a voice for the masses. “How could I not come when there’s so much going on,” she said. “That’s why I’m here; I care about people and I care about Durham, and I want it to be a nice place to live. … Look at the kinds of people (that came.) It was so diverse, we were all here of one accord; that is so beautiful.”

DPS Superintendent Bert L’Homme addressed the concerns of public education and food insecurity issues. In addition to the expansion of the Universal Free Breakfast program, the Universal Free Lunch program has been instituted in 10 schools in the district. DPS also has filled a vacant interpreter position to help Spanish-speaking families feel more included in their child’s education.

“You are a voice for our families and participation, which is essential to our hallmark for DPS,” L’Homme told the crowd.

Abundant Hope Christian Pastor Mark Anthony Middleton addressed the recent victories in police profiling. As of Oct. 1, the police department must undergo racial sensitivity and bias training for all officers. There is a mandatory periodic review of traffic stop data to identify trends. It has committed to finding ways to make minor marijuana infractions a lower-level law enforcement priority, and motorists must now give written permission for all vehicular consent searches.

“Like any good citizen of the Bull City, when we were faced with some bull, we grabbed it by the horns. And in response to empirically based and scientific evidence of highly racialized outcomes, our coalition pressed for (those) recommendations to be adopted,” Middleton said. “Let us be clear: This is not time for a victory lap, this is time for vigilance.”

Wib Gulley, general counsel with Triangle Transit Authority, said the new transit line can provide great job opportunities in the community, but those jobs must have livable wages and new housing affordable to all.  “Durham CAN understood that careful planning and work would be needed to advance this development around the station and to avoid gentrification. When we talk about affordable housing – and we work for that here in Durham– it’s not to hinder or stop any new development. It’s to make sure that the new development benefits everyone,” Gulley said. “I’m happy to report that at CAN’s request, the city council and county board of commissioners have adopted identical resolutions supporting a policy goal of a minimum of 15 percent of housing units at the station sites to be affordable to families with modest incomes.”

Jackie Brown, CEO of the Durham Economic Resource Center, said she works with a single mother who is unemployed, homeless and without any academic credentials or skills. She’s been involved in negotiations on behalf of CAN to make sure that decision makers create a clear pipeline to jobs. “Like Tabitha (the mother), I am a child of poverty. My mother was a maid working in a family’s home, but unlike Tabitha, I had (family) who supported me and made sure I had an education,” she said. “CAN is interested in making sure that all Transit jobs pay a living wage.”

Deborah Ross, a TTA general counsel, said Triangle Transit already pays its employees a livable wage. “Triangle Transit is located in Durham and we have more than 250 employees. We do regular salary studies, and we already pay a living wage or better to our employees,” she said. “As for the light rail project, there’s a federal law that requires that we pay those who work on that project something that’s called a prevailing wage, which is generally higher than a living wage.”

Added Middleton: “We are Durham’s benediction. We are Durham’s good work. We are red, yellow, black, white. We are Democrats (and) Republicans. We are rich, we are poor. We are straight, we are gay. We are here trying to craft a life together. We the people.”