DPD Chief Lopez is out

From the City’s web site, via an announcement written by city manager Bonfield:

After careful consideration, I have determined that a change in leadership is necessary at this time for the City of Durham and the Durham Police Department to continue to meet the law enforcement expectations and needs of the community. Yesterday, Police Chief Jose Lopez, Sr. and I reached an agreement for his separation from the City of Durham, resulting in his decision to retire effective December 31, 2015.

Oddly Lopez’s departure is being described as “retirement,” but the phrasing of the press release seems to imply that it wasn’t a voluntary retirement. Lopez issued a statement to the department, as well.

From my perspective, Lopez has had a really bad string of luck in a really tough job. The death of Jesus Huerta was a low point in his tenure, and the Department’s response to the aftermath was clearly problematic. Now, crime numbers are worsening; Lopez’s retirement even follows closely behind what appears to be a suicide by cop incident involving a pellet gun last week. It’s also notable that the timing of this announcement is mere weeks before the start of city council primaries…

I’m reluctant to pin the blame for much of the DPD’s issues on Lopez; there’s not a simple fix for crime, and Durham’s demographic breakdown has got to be more challenging than most cities of this size. Of course, the city needs to look like it’s addressing the crime issue, and one of the strongest statements one can issue to that effect is a change in management.

Ultimately, I don’t think Lopez has done an especially bad job, but I do think he was dealt a pretty bad hand. Hopefully whoever replaces him can make something better out of it.

Despite the spike in Durham’s violent crime rate, the ATT seems to be a safe haven

I’m not going to lie, this is looking like a really bad year for crime in Durham. The crime rate was up through July, and there were several really awful events in August too. Even Duke is being hit, and the university is doubling their police patrols around central campus.

Things are bad enough that DPD chief Lopez is making the rounds, trying to reach out to community members. It’s difficult to see what he can realistically do; faith in the po-po is especially low across the country right now, and there’s no clear evidence that the DPD is doing anything especially wrong.

There’s at least one positive crime story, though: it turns out, the American Tobacco Trail is pretty safe right now. This is according to a draft report from NC State, NC Central, and NC Rails-Trails.

Although the report notes the spike in crime a few years ago, it also observes that the trail is overall safer than many of the communities it passes through. I read this as: where the trail runs through some of the poorer areas of Durham, the safest place to be is on the trail.

The exception to this is the area around Fayetteville St near the intersection with Pilot Street, where several crimes have clustered on the trail. The study notes that “crime locations were correlated with areas with open views and lack of vegetation; urban areas where the trail/community edges are poorly defined” – that describes the area to a T. The report identifies ways to improve the built environment to help improve safety in this sort of location.

I’ve been critical of how the city has responded to crime on the trail in the past, but overall the trail appears to be quite safe at this time (although that shouldn’t be seen as a justification for ignoring the “low hanging fruit” improvements mentioned in the report). It appears that right now the biggest crime issue facing the trail is perception, rather than reality.

More protests, more arrests

In what’s becoming so frequent that it hardly deserves comment, protesters from Durham and elsewhere marched through town in response to recent grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson.

The only notable difference in last night’s actions was that the DPD actually managed to stop protesters from blocking the freeway altogether when they attempted to enter near Swift Avenue. Eleven people were arrested.

Earlier this week, the protesters headed south, disrupting traffic around Southpoint mall.

DPD: still (probably) racially biased

Yes, I know, I’m behind. You’ve probably already heard about findings that seem to indicate issues with racial profiling in the DPD. Last week, city manager Bonfield presented an official proposal on just what to do about it.

Bonfield’s document, 131 pages long, expands upon the findings of the prior HR report. Bonfield acknowledges that racial biases seem to exist, and one of the biggest areas of focus (both in his presentation and in the initial report) centers around searching. The initial report recommended acquiring consent to search homes as well as vehicles, but Bonfield seems to focus only on the former.

The Council’s work meeting was, to put it mildly, exceptionally well attended (so much so that they needed to move to the full chambers). One can only assume that events in Ferguson have informed the public’s perception of this issue; if the council wants to strike while the iron is hot, well, I don’t suppose it gets much warmer than this.

Chief Lopez responded to a reporter from WUNC and sounded, for lack of a better word… flustered.

The video of the work session is available online. The report on the DPD starts around minute 43.

Despite the massive turnout, the agenda item in the work session was ostensibly only for Bonfield to present his findings, and the Council had not yet had time to review them. Their official discussion of the report is expected during the Council meeting on Tuesday, September 2.

If you’ve never been to a city Council meeting before, this could be an interesting time to get your feet wet.

DPD releases details on Huerta case, CCB plaza suicide by cop, and shooting of knife-wielding suspect

The DPD this week is bringing back a few of blasts from the past, wrapping up some old cases.

First up is the Huerta case, which you guys should all have heard about by now, wherein a DPD officer brought in a teenager who subsequently shot himself while in the back of a DPD cruiser. The department found that the officer failed to search Huerta properly, and additionally he failed to properly activate the cruiser’s video system. The penalty? A week’s unpaid leave. This is, for what it’s worth, following many (how many? unclear to me – but more than a few) weeks of paid leave, so the penalty for screwing up seems to be a really long paid vacation followed by a shorter unpaid one. From the Indy Week:

Duncan apparently failed to discover Huerta’s gun during a standard pat-down during the teen’s arrest.

Duncan, who been with the police force for 16 months, also failed to re-activate the cruiser’s in-car video system after he detained Huerta. He was suspended without pay for 40 hours and given remedial training in transporting and handling prisoners

The DPD took a lot of heat for how all of this went down, and they’ve slightly modified their policies in response. The in-car cameras should now automatically re-activate (so presumably under the new policy we would have had footage of the incident) and the DPD will provide reports to the city manager within five days following officer-involved shootings or deaths.

Next is the 2013 case of Derek Walker, who wielded a “gun” downtown and goaded police into shooting him. The big news on this one is that the “gun” in question was not, in fact, an actual gun – just a pellet gun – and that Walker had actually talked about suicide by cop to a friend earlier. This is the first I’ve seen those two facts reported (though who knows, maybe I missed them earlier…)

This really removes any doubt that Walker was looking to end his own life when he engaged the DPD, and it’s a real tragedy that it couldn’t be avoided. The officer involved in the shooting was determined to have acted appropriately.

Also in the same H-S article is the followup report regarding the shooting of Jose Ocampo, who was “lunging” at a DPD officer while wielding a knife. The debate centered on whether Ocampo was trying to surrender the weapon when he was shot, as some witnesses claimed, but the DPD ultimately found that Ocampo was an apparent threat and the officer was justified in the fatal shooting.

My feeling is that, of the three, the Huerta case still stands out as being problematic, and one week’s suspension of the officer doesn’t really send a strong message to me that the DPD sees it as a big deal.

It’s crime season again on the ATT!

As always, during the warmer months, trail usage picks up, and with it so does the crime.WRAL reports that there are three victims of attacks over the past week; this is following an apparent homicide on one of the ATT spur trails last month.

Maybe the most disturbing part of the latest trend is that these thugs aren’t just looking for money, they’re out for lolz, beating the crap out of unsuspecting citizens just because they think it’s funny:

On Thursday, a man told police he was riding his bike south on the trail from Otis Street about 12:30 p.m. when a teen punched him in the face and knocked him off his bicycle. The teen said nothing and didn’t try to rob him.

This sounds like what’s known as “the knockout game” (which is also, as wikipedia helpfully informs me, called “polar-bear hunting” when referring to white victims). The game is played by finding an unsuspecting citizen and then beating them up, which doesn’t sound so much like “playing a game” as it sounds like “being a sociopath.”

In its continued ineptitude with respect to managing safety on the trail, the city hasn’t done anything of note to address such crime problems since I first wrote about the issue last summer.

I’ve got a few pieces of advice for anybody looking to use the ATT:

  1. Avoid the trail between Elmira Park and Otis Street. Almost every instance of assault or homicide is within a mile of this very specific area. I’ve never even seen a cop on this stretch (maybe they’re scared, too?), and from my perspective you’re better off fighting traffic than thugs.
  2. If you really feel like taking your life in your own hands and decide to ride through that area, for the love of god take a gopro with you (well concealed) so you can catch your attackers on camera.
  3. Citizens can’t legally take firearms on the trail without a concealed carry license, but there’s nothing that says you can’t take a bicycle lock, and I reckon the right lock might come in handy in a pinch. I swap out my U-lock for one of these guys whenever I have to head that way:
  4. Write to the city council and tell them to actually do something tangible about this shameful state of affairs.

DA (again) states that no charges will be filed in Huerta case

After the last protest a few months ago, this story really disappeared quickly; no new developments, no new public demonstrations. WRAL is now reporting on what amounts to a non-development:

After further review of the case, Durham’s top prosecutor said Friday that no charges will be filed in the death of Jesus Huerta, a teenager who police say shot himself in the head while he was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car last year.

The DA had agreed to review evidence from a new source, but has apparently found that evidence lacking.

This isn’t necessarily the end of the story, though. The officer involved has been suspended (with pay!) while an internal investigation has been conducted. That investigation should be completed “soon” – so stay tuned.

Surprise! DPD is maybe racially biased!

… well, that’s the word from the HR Commission which Bell tapped with investigating problems at the department.

The full report isn’t very long, and you can peruse the entire document here. The Commission wasn’t just tasked with identifying problems, they’ve also presented some potential remedies, which include:

  • Community outreach; this includes increasing attendance at PAC meetings and better PR response (no kidding)
  • Modified departmental policies; this includes a psych eval every three years for all officers and employees of the DPD and permanently running video cameras in vehicles (the latter of which is a personal favorite of yours truly).
  • Procedures surrounding stops and consent searches; these include better communication about the reasons for searches, review of the searches, and a requirement to get written consent from the subject.
  • Training; this includes implementing a Racial Equality training program for officers, additional training of new recruits, and extra training for officers who frequently work with the community.
  • Pot gets a specific callout; the commission recommends that the city investigate de-prioritizing marijuana arrests.
  • The Citizens Police Review board could get more teeth. This is a board that answers to citizens and reviews DPD issues (independent of internal affairs).
  • Online complaint forms! And they recommend that there should be a policy to respond to complaints.

Note that the Commission’s recommendations are just that, recommendations, and there’s no obligation for anybody to do anything with them.

EDIT: the Indy just published an article about this that’s worth a read.

Oh, and while we’re talking about the DPD, I thought I’d mention the case of the DPD uniform slash puppy thief:

Someone broke into a Durham police officer’s home Tuesday and stole the officer’s puppy, police uniform, Taser, work gear, jewelry and electronic items, police said Wednesday.

Seriously, check out that puppy. What kind of cold criminal would take such a cutie?

Although the DPD has since arrested the perp, the pooch presently remains on the prowl, so keep your eyes open and let the DPD know if you spot him, OK? Among other charges, the criminal is tapped with “felony larceny of a dog” – good luck explaining that one to your bunkmate in the slammer, buddy.

Council releases official statement on protests; no word yet on plans for next march

First up, the Herald-Sun has the full text of the council’s position on the matter. It’s not long, but the tldr version is:

  • please get a permit if you’re going to block traffic
  • please don’t run around wearing masks and breaking shit
  • please don’t barge into DPD facilities

Or, as I’d like to even more succinctly summarize it:

  • Don’t be a dick

The Council can’t really do anything concrete to enforce any of this, but it’s a gentle reminder that these protests are illegal (and that legal alternatives do exist).

Next, there’s the question of what the future holds for these protests. The first one happened within a week of Huerta’s death, but the following two events were scheduled for the 19th of their respective months – not a coincidence I would assume, as Huerta died on November 19. I imagine that if there is to be a February march, it would also likely be on the 19th.

So far, I see nothing indicating that one is being planned. There are a few places you can keep an eye on if you’re bored:

      • The prisonbooks dot info web site. These guys are a Chapel Hill anarchist group [ed – they don’t claim to be anarchists specifically, sorry] who has been publishing accounts of the protests. There’s a blog post from shortly after the event which expresses disappointment in the turnout, and seems to imply that another event may not be imminent, with statements like: “It seems likely that for the foreseeable future these monthly street conflicts may die down. The second and third marches were progressively smaller, albeit by a small degree, suggesting a period of rest and recovery.”
      • The Facebook page of Rafael Estrada, AKA Rafael Estrada Maya (which appears to be his full legal name, as some media outlets reported in the past) . Estrada created the event pages for the marches and publicized the earlier events on social media. NB: Estrada has since changed the name of his Facebook account to “Hombreranapez Burbujas
      • The Facebook group page for prisonbooks dot info
      • The Facebook group page of UNC anarchists, which publicized earlier marches

I really want to go back to something I mentioned in a previous post: if you’ve got a problem with the DPD, for whatever reason, there are much smarter ways to pursue your complaint than by associating with anarchists or others who are intent on committing vandalism. If any of the groups listed above start publicizing an event, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ll take over the situation and steer the crowd towards at least property damage and potentially an all out escalation of conflict with the police.

I mean, this is the kind of thing they’re saying:

If a critique can be made of the march at this point, it would have to be that we lacked the numbers or the will to effectively hold ground against the riot cops after the attack at the police station. Choosing to disperse a couple blocks after the attack rather than face a near certain mass arrest was probably the correct decision, but had the social force existed to hold territory in downtown rather than cede it, a new barrier would have been broken.

So when the anarchists agitators start RSVPing, you might want to bow out – unless you specifically want to pick a fight with the cops, rather than peacefully demonstrating concern over how things are being conducted by the DPD. If you’re looking for a peaceful demonstration, be advised that these guys have very different priorities from you.

EDIT: prison books dot info writes back, to let me know that they don’t identify as an anarchist group. Duly noted above.