Federal Interagency Reentry Council

Formerly Incarcerated Leaders Have Historic Meeting with Federal Interagency Reentry Council

Civil rights movement had the Big Six – Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Whitney Young, and other visionaries – advocating for the end of discriminatory treatment toward black and brown people. On Monday, October 20th we saw the emergence of the Big Eight – formerly incarcerated leaders at the forefront of a new civil and human rights movement – ending the structural discrimination faced by people with criminal records. These leaders include Daryl Atkinson, Susan Burton, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, Norris Henderson, Manuel LaFontaine, Glenn Martin, Vivian Nixon, and Dorsey Nunn. In the first meeting of its kind, these formerly incarcerated leaders met with senior officials of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council (Reentry Council) to advocate for a set of reforms to help end the 2nd class status of people with criminal records.

The Reentry Council, which represents over twenty federal agencies, was created by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2011 to remove federal barriers to reentry. SCSJ’s, Daryl V. Atkinson, a member of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICMP), took the lead in organizing this historic multi-agency meeting. Among the federal attendees were Karol Mason, Assistant Attorney General, Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Roy Austin, White House Domestic Policy Counsel. In total, representatives from over 13 federal agencies were in attendance at this historic meeting where leaders in the criminal justice reform movement advocated for the end to the structural discrimination faced by people with criminal records in employment, education, housing, and voting.

SCSJ’s Daryl V. Atkinson focused on employment, highlighting Durham’s success around “Ban the Box”. Atkinson presented SCSJ’s new White Paper highlighting the case study of Durham’s successful “Ban the Box” campaign. The paper details the steps in creating and implementing a successful campaign, especially the importance of building power within marginalized communities. “We believe having directly affected people leading the campaign in every aspect, including the development of an effective policy, was a critical component to the successful hiring outcomes produced by Durham’s “Ban the Box” campaign,” said Daryl Atkinson.

The meeting was widely heralded as a success, and participants are hopeful that the lines of communication between formerly incarcerated leaders and federal policy makers will remain open. Click here to read SCSJ’s new white paper on the success of Durham’s Ban the Box campaign.

Clean Slate Clinic Facebook Graphic

Clean Slate Clinic November 1 in Raleigh

Do you have a criminal record?  Has your criminal record held you back from getting a job?  There will be a free Clean Slate Clinic on Saturday, November 1 – stop by to see if you are eligible to clean up your record.  Attorneys will be on hand to speak with you directly. Clean Slate services are FREE and the event is open to the public.  There is no age limit, but we do not process juvenile records. The first 150 pre-registered people are guaranteed same-day consultation with an attorney; all others will be contacted after the event to schedule their free appointment to discuss their record with an attorney.

Please pre-register by October 24.

What: Clean Slate Clinic

When: Saturday, November 1 from 8am-1pm

Where: Capital Area NC Works Career Center
1830 Tillery Place
Raleigh, NC 27604

Who Should Attend: People with a criminal record who want to find out if they’re eligible for free legal services to improve their ability to secure employment, housing, education, and other services.

What is Clean Slate work and why is it important?

Involvement in the criminal justice system has negative side effects beyond a court case and possible conviction.  Arrests and convictions trigger an additional set of punishments known as collateral consequences. These consequences operate outside of the criminal justice context even after an individual has served his or her jail or prison sentence, paid fees and fines, and completed parole or probation. Unresolved legal matters impede an individual’s ability to get a driver’s and/or employment license, or access to public benefits.  Other barriers include exclusion from housing opportunities, extreme difficulty finding a job, and in some cases lack of access to higher education – all due to a criminal record. To combat this problem, SCSJ’s Clean Slate Program supplements the important services provided by our partner organizations with direct legal services and advocacy in the following areas: expungment and Certificates of Relief (COR), employment or occupational licensing hearings and driver’s license restoration.

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Learn more in our Clean Slate Clinic Handout. Download a copy of our Clean Slate Flyer to share with your community!

The November 1 event is our first Clean Slate Clinic in Raleigh. Please help us make it a success by registering now!

This event is presented by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and our partners including Community Success Initiative and SpiritHouse Inc.

 

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From Mayberry to Martial Law: The Transfer of Military Surplus to Domestic Police

“The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.” – James Madison, the Federalist Papers

As Americans, we’ve always been leery of using the military to police our citizens. But some critics say that the “militarization of law enforcement” is happening right in front of our eyes. Media coverage of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the controversial police killing of teenager Michael Brown, displayed the St. Louis County law enforcement agencies as a well-armed paramilitary force. But if the Founding Fathers were so worried about a threat of domestic tyranny, how did we get here? We took a look to figure it out.

So what does local law enforcement have to do with the United States military?

In 1997, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act. Tucked away in that law is the 1033 Program.

The 1033 Program allows the Law Enforcement Support Office to transfer excess Department of Defense property to law enforcement agencies across the United States and its territories.

The Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) serves as a bridge between the U.S. military and local law enforcement agencies and is overseen by the Pentagon.

The 1033 Program started with the War on Drugs. Congress decided that if law enforcement personnel were waging a drug war, they needed to be outfitted like warriors.

In fact, the LESO slogan is: “Transferring Property from the Warfighter to the Crimefighter”

As well as: “Get with the Program”

 

How much surplus are we talking about here?

By the end of 2014, the 1033 Program will have transferred over $5 billion worth of military property to the police.

Through June of 2014, the 1033 Program had transferred almost $750 million (¾ of a billion dollars) worth of equipment.

  • That’s nearly double 2013’s entire yearly total of $450 million!
  • (But to really put it into perspective) It’s around the same dollar value as all of the equipment transferred in the program from the year 2000 until 2007!

At this rate, 1.5 billion dollars of military surplus will be transferred to domestic police forces in 2014 alone. That’s almost one third (30%) of the entire 17 years worth of transfers… in one year!

[According to the LESO, an original acquisition value “refers to the amount the military services paid for the property.”]

 

But the police departments only get what they need, right?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there’s around 18,000 total local law enforcement agencies in the United States.

  • The LESO claims that around 8,000 of those agencies (nearly half of US police departments) are involved in the program.
  • But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that there’s actually around 17,000 agencies (about 94%) that have received property from the Department of Defense.

The ACLU might be on to something: The Department of Defense admits that the LESO records are far from accurate: An Inspector General logistics report took a random sample of equipment transfer records and found that 3 out of 4 (74%) were incorrect. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 43% – police received more property than they were approved for
  • 21% – no approval record at all
  • 8% – mismatched data entry errors
  • 2% – police received less property than they were approved for
  • Only 26% were correctly accounted for

This could explain the case of the phantom MRAP

  • During the Ferguson protests, a LENCO-brand Mine-Resistant-Ambush-Protected (or MRAP) “Bearcat” vehicle was photographed in the streets.
  • But Mike O’Connell, the communications director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety told Newsweek that he “does not know” where it came from since St. Louis County law enforcement agencies have not acquired any MRAPs through the 1033 Program.
  • This mystery MRAP wasn’t cheap, either: the vehicles come with a $733,000 sticker price.

St. Louis County police are not the only ones acquiring MRAPs.

  • There are over 600 MRAPs across the U.S.
  • Pine County Minnesota (Population: 29,218) acquired a MRAP in 2013 to use for search and rescue operations in Pine County’s swampy areas. It has since been used for a zombie apocalypse training event.
  • Ohio State University Police got one in order to provide “presence” on football game days.

But its not just MRAPs that local law enforcement agencies are picking up from LESO. They can acquire anything from small arms pistols to grenade launchers.

  • Bloomingdale, Georgia (population 2,713) received four grenade launchers through the 1033 Program. Bloomingdale Police Chief Roy Pike explains that it’s a way to send a message—that “officers are armed to meet any threat,” but admits that in the 20 years he’s served Bloomingdale, the police force has never “had to use deadly force against anybody.”
  • Police forces in Keene, New Hampshire (population 23,000) justified their acquisition of an armored tactical vehicle as integral to the town’s safety, saying they needed it to patrol the annual Pumpkin Festival “and other dangerous situations.”
  • The tiny farming community of Morven, Georgia (population 532) has grabbed over $4 million worth of surplus including three boats, scuba gear, rescue rafts, and dozens of life preservers. The town’s deepest body of water is an ankle-deep creek.

Don’t they need it to fight terrorism here at home though?

Oxford County in rural western Maine received an MRAP through the program along with six other law enforcement agencies across the state. Oxford County Sheriff George Cayer explained that “the western foothills of Maine … currently face a previously unimaginable threat from terrorist activities.”

It seems that $218 million wasn’t enough for Sheriff Cayer and the rest of Maine’s local law enforcement to fight against such “unimaginable” threats of domestic terrorism—that’s the amount of money shelled out by the Department of Homeland Security since the department’s inception in 2002.

In fact, the entire nation has received over $34 billion in federal grants to help local police forces combat terrorist activities.

How can these small towns afford three-quarter-million-dollar armored fighting vehicles?

The price tag is “FREE.”

All this equipment is considered surplus “there is no cost to local taxpayers since they’ve already paid for the equipment with their federal taxes.” The law enforcement agencies that receive it pay for the shipping and maintenance. That’s it!

The Pentagon says that more than 1/3 of everything transferred through the 1033 Program is brand new.

So instead of small towns across the nation paying sticker price, they’re receiving the equipment at a fraction of the cost.

Watertown, Connecticut (population 22,514) recently acquired its own MRAP for shipping and maintenance costs of $2,800. Talk about a fire sale—that’s an unbelievable 99.6% discount!

 

Isn’t it better to use this equipment instead of destroying it?

Not so, according to four-star Marine General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr.:

  • MRAPs cost around $10,000 to destroy in the field (in places like Afghanistan and Iraq).
  • But it can cost up to $50,000 to bring each one back to the States.

In other words, the tax payers could save $40,000 per MRAP by destroying them in the field!

With 600 MRAPs in the U.S., that’s a 24 million dollars loss for just one type of surplus product transferred.
[ (cost to ship:$50,000 x 600 = $30 million) - (cost to destroy:$10,000 x 600 = $6 million) = ($24 million) ]

 


Martial Law


Sources:

Martial Law
Source: CriminalJusticeDegreeHub.com

Left of Black

Left of Black: Mass Incarceration, Voting Rights & State Sanctioned Violence

Left of Black host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined in-studio by Daryl Atkinson, Senior Staff Attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in North Carolina.  In a conversation about mass incarceration, the erosion of voting rights and State sanctioned violence Aktinson asserts that “the State sanctioned violence that we saw in Ferguson…cannot happen outside of the larger context of putting 2.2 million people in cages.”

Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University.
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Episodes of Left of Black are also available for free download in @ iTunes U
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Follow Left of Black on Twitter: @LeftofBlack
Follow Mark Anthony Neal on Twitter: @NewBlackMan

 

Follow Southern Coalition for Social Justice on Twitter: @SCSJ
Ban the Box crop

Why #BanTheBox Matters: Durham’s Success Story

Want proof that “ban the box” policies help people with criminal records secure good jobs while helping employers hire good workers? You’ll find it in Durham, North Carolina, where government hiring of people with records has increased dramatically since the city and county removed questions about prior convictions from job applications.

In 2011, the last year before the city took that step, only 2 percent of hires had records. Under the new policy, that figure rose to 4.5 percent in 2012, 9.4 percent in 2013, and 15.5 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Since adopting a similar policy in late 2012, the county has more than doubled the number of new hires with records.

And it has happened without compromising public safety, the biggest argument against banning the box. There has been no increase in workplace crime in either the city or the county government, and no employee has been fired because of illegal activity.

The Durham results mark the latest success in a growing national movement to eliminate an employment barrier that has no benefits but enormous costs for formerly incarcerated people, their families and communities, local and state economies, and overall growth.

Durham graph

“Banning the box” builds stronger economies

About 70 million Americans, disproportionately African American and Latino, have conviction records. Of the roughly 700,000 people who are released from state prisons annually, as many as 75 percent will still have no job a year later — in large part because they are effectively disqualified the minute they check off an application box indicating a past arrest or conviction. Steady employment reduces the risk of recidivism, and so do “ban the box” policies.  A new study of Hawaii’s 1998 “ban the box” law found it lowered the odds of repeat offending by 57 percent.

The economy benefits, too. A 2011 study found that putting just 100 formerly incarcerated people back to work would increase their lifetime earnings by $55 million, increase their income tax contributions by $1.9 million, and boost sales tax revenues by $770,000, while saving $2 million a year by keeping them out of the criminal justice system.

Evidence like this has persuaded more than 10 states, 60 cities and counties, and some of the nation’s largest employers, including Wal-Mart and Target, to remove questions about arrests and convictions from initial job applications. In North Carolina, six additional jurisdictions, including the city governments of Raleigh and Fayetteville, have followed Durham’s lead.  Grassroots advocates are gearing up for a campaign in 2015 to remove the box on state government job applications.

“This work is going to benefit our entire state and our entire country, because our economic vitality is at stake,” said Daryl V. Atkinson, an attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “It is so important to have good policies that create an environment where everyone can be successful.”

Skills and talent trump past convictions

“Ban the box” policies do not prohibit employers from checking on a prospective employee’s background. They simply delay it, giving applicants with records a fair shot at proving they are qualified for the job. The strongest policies (like in Minnesota) cover private employers as well as government employees. Durham’s policies apply only to public employees, not government contractors or other businesses.

Under the policies, prospective employees are not asked about convictions on job applications or during interviews. A background check is conducted only after the applicant has received a conditional job offer. One reason the policies are so successful is that the vetting process includes important civil rights and privacy protections for applicants:

  • They have the right to check the accuracy of the record and to submit statements about rehabilitation.
  • The human resources department conducts the background check. The applicant’s prospective supervisor and co-workers never learn about conviction history.
  • Only a top government official may rescind an offer of employment because of a record, and only after establishing a direct relationship between the crime and the job. This almost never happens — in Durham County, 96 percent of people with records who were recommended for a job ultimately were hired, even after the background check.

“Skills and qualifications trump a record,” Atkinson said.

He should know. As a college student in 1996, he pled guilty to a first-time nonviolent drug offense and spent 40 months in prison under Alabama’s mandatory sentencing law. The consequences of incarceration followed him long after his release: his driver’s license was suspended, he was denied federal student aid and admission to numerous schools, and he was turned away from jobs.

But with strong family and community support he persisted and eventually graduated from college and law school. Atkinson is licensed to practice law in Minnesota and North Carolina. Recently, he was honored as a White House Champion for Change for his work to help people with records overcome barriers to success.

“I tell my story not to give kudos to myself but to illustrate the human capacity of people who are put in cages every day,” Atkinson said. “Not everyone will be blessed with the familial and community support that I had, which is why it’s important that society create secondary support systems and adopt effective reentry policies like ‘ban the box’ for people leaving the criminal justice system.”

This PolicyLink post appeared on October 9, 2014.

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TalkPoverty LIVE focuses on Durham’s “Ban the Box” success

SCSJ Staff Attorney Daryl Atkinson discussed critical policy issues relating to poverty in America with fellow expert panelists on Thursday’s TalkPoverty LIVE! webcast. Joining him were:

  • Jared Bernstein: Senior Fellow at the  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Biden
  • Jodie Levin-Epstein: Deputy Director of  the Center for Law and Social Policy
  • Rebecca Vallas: Moderator; Associate Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress

Over the course of the program the discussants identified and expounded on three key policy solutions for increasing economic security including reforming the criminal justice system and re-entry policies so that criminal records do not commit people or their families to a life of poverty. Durham, North Carolina’s laudable “Ban the Box” policy was noted as being a successful model for expanding economic opportunity by eliminating such barriers to employment.

 

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Why I support the ‘Final Words’ book project

Final Words: 517 executed prisoners of Texas Death Row share their last words. It’s time to listen!

This is not a typical SCSJ blog post. I am speaking to you as one person to another, not in my professional capacity as an attorney. I hope you will bear with me. -Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director, SCSJ

What is Final Words?

FinalWords  is a truly unique and compelling book featuring the last statements of the 517 people executed by the State of Texas since 1982. With every page, FinalWords not only testifies to the elemental humanity at the core of the death penalty, it further raises critical questions about this systematic and dehumanizing practice.

Final Words interrogates our presuppositions about the death penalty in an effort to challenge our comfort with perpetuating this legacy of state-sanctioned executions. It allows these executed death row inmates to speak to us, to have a voice in the debate.

Final Words forces us to examine this legacy and in doing so it offers an opportunity to look to the future and question if we can’t create a new way forward. To judge the death penalty on the basis of its full consequences is to honor our own democratic tradition. Let us face our beliefs with open minds, so we can listen to these voices—let us hear their final words.

final words

SCSJ’s Shoshannah Sayers does a “Selfie Against the Death Penalty” for the Final Words campaign

Why is this important to me?

North Carolina is one of the top ten states with the highest execution rates in the nation. It stuns me that for all of our talk about redemption and second chances, we continue to practice state-sanctioned murder at rates far above the national average. For me, it is impossible to work in a place like SCSJ – where we believe so strongly that every person deserves a second chance – and not be viscerally opposed to the death penalty. When our criminal justice system suffers from huge outcome disparities based on nothing more than the race or socioeconomic status of the person being tried, it is impossible for me to believe that any execution could ever be warranted.

Final Words gives us a chance to see people on death row as what they truly are – human beings. Regardless of race or class, guilt or innocence, the death penalty (and the entire system of mass incarceration, for that matter) takes away people’s basic humanity. We cannot allow this to stand.

 Why I supported the Final Words Indiegogo campaign

The death penalty embodies the mistaken belief that a person’s single, most horrible act means more than the sum of every good thing they ever did – it means more than their right to life. It says that there is a point at which we stop being people and start being chattel; bought and sold, permitted to live or forced to die subject to the whims of a broken criminal justice system. I cannot participate in such a system. And while I cannot end mass incarceration and execution in the United States by myself, perhaps we can, together.

So, with this hope in mind, I made a modest donation. Perhaps you will too. And perhaps together our voices will be louder, truer, and stronger than the voices of hate and fear that currently direct our criminal justice system. Perhaps together, our voices will manifest change.

I choose to amplify the voices of these 517 humans executed on Texas Death Row. Let’s publish their Final Words and begin a new conversation about the death penalty in America! I choose to support Final Words. And I hope you will do the same.

Shoshannah Sayers, Deputy Director, Southern Coalition for Social Justice

 

Employment Opportunity Legal Corps

SCSJ Welcomes Employment Opportunity Legal Corps Attorneys

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) is proud to welcome attorneys Dave Hall and Bethan Eynon to work in our Clean Slate Program. Their positions were made possible Employment Opportunity Legal Corps Fellowships, funded by Equal Justice Works and AmeriCorps. As Employment Opportunity Legal Corps attorneys, Dave and Bethan will exclusively focus on improving the employment opportunities and outcomes of people with criminal records via tools such as Certificates of Relief, Expungements, Driver’s License Restorations, and Professional License Restorations.

Bethan Eynon comes to SCSJ from a 2-year fellowship with the UNC Center for Civil Rights. In law school, her volunteer work with the Driver’s License Restoration Project helped her realize the barriers that exist to keep people with criminal records from fully participating in society. Now, having been a Community Inclusion Fellow for the past two years, she is excited at the opportunity to represent individuals with reentry issues while working within the community lawyering model.

Dave Hall comes to SCSJ from private practice as a criminal defense lawyer. He has been involved in social justice work since law school. After law school he continued to volunteer at expunction clinics with Legal Aid, Social Justice Education, the FADE Coalition, and SCSJ Clean Slate Clinics. Dave is proud of the work he has done in the local Durham community. He is a team player with a proven track record of social justice, community based lawyering. As a “Clean Slate” attorney Dave looks forward to providing legal relief and employment opportunity to formerly incarcerated people throughout North Carolina.

Employment Opportunity Legal Corps

Team meeting, Dave and Bethan on the far right.

“We are extremely pleased to extend the capacity of our Clean Slate program through the addition of Bethan and Dave,” said SCSJ Senior Staff Attorney Daryl Atkinson. “With their help, we can serve more North Carolinians struggling to find employment, housing, and education opportunities because of a criminal conviction.”

Post by SCSJ Deputy Director Shoshannah Sayers

 

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A Ferguson Near You: police brutality and racism

In the aftermath of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, Duke Law’s Black Law Student Association brought together a panel of experts to discuss the issue of police brutality and race. Because violence against unarmed young men of color is not unique to Ferguson – it happens every day throughout the U.S. SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson spoke at the event, connecting the root causes of events such as those in Ferguson with the institutional racism endemic to police departments throughout the nation. (Daryl’s speech begins at 29:25, but the entire video is well worth watching).

 

What police actions lead to violence such as what we saw in Ferguson?

  1. Highly racialized stops by police, leading to distrust between police and communities of color
  2. Highly racialized outcomes associated with the “War On Drugs,” despite equal usage rates by people of all races
  3. Militarization of police departments, and the overuse of militarized police practices in communities of color

What can we do?

Here in Durham, Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement (FADE), a coalition of local grassroots organizing, clergy members, and civil rights groups, has five

recommendations:

  1. Mandatory written consent for police searching people and their property[i]
  2. Misdemeanor marijuana possession should be a lowest law enforcement priority (LLEP)[ii]
  3. Mandatory racial equity training for police[iii]
  4. Reform civilian review board to hold police accountable
  5. Mandatory quarterly data reports on the racial breakdown of police stops, searches, and arrests

 

[i] Adopted by the Durham city Council on September 17, 2014

[ii] Under consideration by the Durham City Council (as of September 22, 2014)

[iii] While the Durham City Council has endorsed some training, the FADE coalition encourages more in-depth racial profiling training.

About this event

Sparked by the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, there is a renewed public discussion on troubled interactions between minorities and police. This panel, comprised of experts from various disciplines, offers observations and suggestions. Presented on September 15, 2014, at Duke Law School, panelists included Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Duke University; Dr. Karla Holloway, Professor of English, Law, and Women’s Studies; Daryl Atkinson, attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), focusing on criminal justice reform; Melvin Tucker, criminal justice and litigation consultant for law enforcement cases. Duke Law Professor Trina Jones moderates the panel. Sponsored by the Black Law Students Association and the Center on Law, Race, and Politics.

FADE coalition

Success In Campaign Against Durham PD Racial Profiling

We are glad to report that the campaign against racial profiling in Durham has begun to result in important and concrete changes to departmental policies. It was one year ago this week that SCSJ joined its partners in the FADE coalition in marching from the Durham Police Department to the steps of City Hall. On the afternoon of September 16, 2013, organizers took turns reading a list of community grievances with the Durham PD. Chief among them were allegations of racial profiling and a pattern and practice of illegal searches and excessive force against minority communities. The demonstration was organized in the wake of the recent police shooting of Honduran immigrant Jose Adan Ocampo and the arrest of Carlos Riley, Jr., and happened just one day before 26-year old Derek Walker was shot to death by police at CCB plaza, during an incident captured by area news cameras.

A few weeks later, on October 17, 2013, the FADE coalition issued a formal letter to the city, outlining a list of specific policy recommendations designed to change the culture of Durham policing, end the use of racial profiling practices, and promote institutional accountability. The recommendations were developed through a series of community meetings and listening sessions in the most directly impacted neighborhoods, as well as by conducting a nationwide survey of best practices for reducing incidents of racialized policing. The package of reforms, which came to be known as the “FADE recommendations,” and which ultimately came to enjoy widespread support from a diverse-array of Durham organizations and congregations, included the following policy proposals:

  • Mandate the use of written consent-to-search forms for all searches in which officers lack probable cause or reason to believe a person is armed and dangerous;
  • Designate marijuana enforcement the city’s lowest law enforcement priority, given the highly discriminatory way in which the current law is enforced;
  • Require periodic audits of individual officer stop, search and arrest data to monitor for and detect officers who are engaging in racially discriminatory law enforcement practices;
  • Mandate that all Durham police officers participate in formal racial equity training;
  • Reform the ineffective Durham Civilian Police Review Board, which, in its ten years of existence has yet to rule in favor of a civilian.
  • A year later, we are pleased to report that most of these recommendations have either been formally implemented by the City Manager or are well on their way to being implemented.

    Much work remains to be done with regard to the Civilian Review Board, but there have been some tangible improvements to even that institution—the most notable of which gives the City Council, and thus the public, a say in Board appointments, a responsibility which had previously rested exclusively with the City Manager.

    The story of how this came to be—and of all the amazing community members, organizations, and congregations who had a hand in making it happen—will be the subject of a future blog post. For present purposes, it’s enough to say that this was a true community-based effort from day one and these reforms never would have happened but for the abiding commitment of a great many people, who came together for the common purpose of demanding a police department that is fair in its treatment of the community it serves and committed to principles of nondiscriminatory policing.

    So where exactly do we stand?

    As of October 1st, Durham will join Austin, TX, and Fayetteville, NC, as one of the first cities in the country to mandate that police obtain the informed, written consent of motorists before undertaking non-probable cause based searches.

    This is a significant and hard fought change, and one that we expect to bear immediate results in reducing the incidence of invasive vehicle searches, 82% of which involved black motorists in 2013. Before searching a vehicle without probable cause, police will now have to inform motorists of their right to refuse by way of a form that the driver must sign before the search can proceed. Following the adoption of written consent in Fayetteville in 2012, traffic stops dropped by 50% and searches by 60%, according to a review of records conducted by the Fayetteville Observer.

    On the issue of marijuana enforcement, and in response to community demands, Mayor Bill Bell has announced a convening of the city’s Chief District Court Judge, District Attorney, Sheriff, Police Chief, and Manager to explore the use of “diversion and treatment programs” in order to “reduce the criminal and financial impact” of marijuana arrests.

    Multiple City Council members publicly announced their support for outright “decriminalization” of the drug and their belief that the city should officially “deprioritize” its enforcement if decriminalization is deemed impractical by city lawyers, given the existence of North Carolina General Statutes that continue to criminalize possession. This particular initiative will take time to implement, given all the different players involved, but the city’s commitment towards ending the racially discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws is nonetheless a very encouraging first step in the right direction.

    The City Manager also announced his support of the 3rd FADE recommendation of using officer stop and search data for management purposes.

    Starting January 31, 2015, Durham PD General Order 1050 will be amended to include the regular analysis of officer “stop/search data as a referral activity to the Professional Excellence Program” and for purposes of “annual performance reviews.” This policy change, like written consent, should produce immediate results once it goes into effect next year, as officers will, for the first time, know that their stop and search data is being routinely scrutinized for racialized policing patterns and compared to peer officers, assigned to similar beats, for identification of any anomalous stop or search activity.

    As for racial equity training, the city has agreed to require that all current and future officers participate in formal racial equity training, currently scheduled to be conducted under the auspices of the Fair and Impartial Policing Program. We have concerns about the selection of this particular training program, given its predominant focus on unconscious, or implicit, bias. The program does not appear to include a holistic assessment of department orders, directives and protocols that, though perhaps well-intentioned, may be combining to produce the sort of highly racialized outcomes that prompted the community to bring its concerns to the city in the first place. We will continue to press the city to participate in additional race equity work and we have already received a commitment from at least one City Councilman to investigate the possibility of bringing in the Center for Policing Equity, based in Los Angeles, to conduct a department-wide assessment.

    Click here to read the City Manager’s latest report.

    Post by SCSJ’s Ian Mance, Attorney & Soros Justice Fellow