Given the Durham Police Department's scandal-plagued recent history—accusations of racial profiling, the mysterious shooting of a teenager in the back of a squad car, the forced resignation of Police Chief Jose Lopez in September—you'd think the first public forum seeking input on Lopez's replacement would be teeming with fire-breathing protesters.
Nope. Instead, about 30-odd citizens—a third of them either local media or politicians—turned up Monday night at the Holton Resource Center in East Durham. A representative from Developmental Associates, the firm tapped to manage the selection process, had to ask the crowd to move to the front of the auditorium, like a lead singer on a weeknight in Duluth.
Developmental Associates president Steve Straus opened things up by explaining, in fairly satisfying detail, how things will move forward between now and April, when Lopez's successor is expected to be named. There will be a multi-stage screening process that will include government officials, police chiefs from other cities in the region and even regular citizens, he promised. It all sounded rigorous and logical.
Next, former N.C. Central police chief Willie Williams, now a senior consultant with Developmental Associates, roamed the room with a microphone, allowing those who wished to speak three minutes to say their peace.
Most simply voiced displeasure with the current state of the DPD—implicit bias, rumors of checkpoints aimed at Hispanics, marijuana enforcement and other strains of overzealous policing. Others spoke of the necessary characteristics of a new chief: emotional intelligence, communication skills, a proven track record of changing good-ol'-boy police cultures.
So far, so good. But then, toward the end of the forum, Straus revealed that a closed-door meeting was planned at City Hall the following day with some "associates" from the community. No, he wouldn't say who. Just some "folks" who had worked with the DPD. And some business "folks." He assured the crowd that their input would count just the same as the input gathered Tuesday with these unnamed folks.
Even so, it became clear that several grassroots organizations that have been active in police-reform efforts—FADE, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, SpiritHouse and others—weren't on the invite list. And that didn't go over well.
SpiritHouse executive director Nia Wilson told the INDY Tuesday that she's worried about the lack of transparency. "It's not just that we were left out," she says. "It's the way the information came out, like we weren't supposed to know about it."
At the forum Monday, new City Council member Jillian Johnson echoed Wilson's unease.
"I'm concerned that you guys are not asking all the right questions," she said. "I think the community should have been involved in shaping what the questions were tonight, rather than just being asked to answer your questions."
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