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March 2016

Durham Police Chief finalists, Part 2: Major Michael Smathers of Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD

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Note: On Tuesday afternoon, City Manager Tom Bonfield announced the two finalists for Durham Police Chief, Atlanta Deputy Chief Cerelyn J. Davis and Major Michael J. Smathers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. This is the second of two stories about the finalists.

The city has posted the  finalists’ resumes. You ask questions in person at a public forum on Wednesday April 6, from 7 to 8 p.m. at Durham City Hall. The Q&A will be broadcast on the Government TV channel (8 for Time Warner, 99 for AT&T U-Verse), or livestreamed via the city’s Facebook page and website.

You can submit questions through April 4 via 919-560-1200, the city’s Facebook page, the city’s Twitter feed and by email at [email protected]

After Major Michael Smathers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reviewed the dashcam video of fellow officer Randall Kerrick, he knew that the evidence looked damning.

“I initially had concern the very first time I saw that video,” Smathers testified in a deposition last year. “But I watched it dozens of times that day … and that feeling never left me.”  Download Deposition of CMPD investigator Michael Smathers

In 2013, Kerrick, who is white, shot an unarmed black man, Jonathan Ferrell, 10 times, killing him. The officer was charged with voluntary manslaughter, but a jury deadlocked on the case, and he was not convicted. Kerrick resigned from CMPD last October.

At the time, Smathers was over the Criminal Investigations Bureau, which deals with all of the violent felony crimes, including those by criminal allegations against police officers.

For many Durham residents, particularly in communities of color, it is notable that Smathers, one of two finalists for the chief’s job, was unafraid not only to examine the evidence against a fellow officer but also to recommend charging him with a serious crime. 

“It’s upsetting to charge a fellow officer,” Smathers said in his deposition, “and it was historic in the history of our police department to do it.”

Smathers’ experience in a diverse city could address some of Durham’s concerns about the next chief, especially his work in community policing, clearance rates and police reform. Smathers, who currently oversees the Field Services Division, also managed the armed robbery and sexual assault units, worked in SWAT and officer training, and supervised patrol officers.

In 2012, Smathers attended an Innocence Project event in Albany, N.Y., where he joined several  public defenders, crime victims and wrongly convicted suspects in urging New York state to reform its police interrogations and identification procedures. 

Smathers discusses several of these reforms, including allowing jurors to see and hear police interviews, in transcript of a DOJ podcast. “We just continued to hear from jurors and from our prosecutors that it would enhance their confidence in the work that we were producing and we were testifying to if jurors and prosecutors could hear the interviews themselves. So we thought, why not. There is no compelling reason to not share what goes on in the interview room.”

Smathers was also the commander of the Crisis Negotiation Team, and that experience could prove helpful in Durham, Over the past three years in Durham, several incidents, including the high-profile, officer-related shooting of Derek Walker, who was threatening to commit suicide with a gun in CCB Plaza downtown, raised concerns about the use of force against people with mental illness.

However, there were minor questions about Smathers’ handling of the policing at the 2012 Democratic National Convention — although some decisions, made at the federal level, were beyond his control. That year, Charlotte had received a $49.8 million federal grant to provide security at the convention for 6,000 delegates and 30,000 visitors, as well as the city’s residents.

Smothers was the commander of the Mobile Field Force Platoon, and led policing at various demonstrations and crowd management assignments. The event was largely peaceful, although 25 people, mostly demonstrators, were arrested over the three-day event, including 10 undocumented immigrants who were protesting the convention.

 An U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General’s report noted that “some arresting officers were inexperienced in the protocols and procedures for handling evidence in a mass arrest environment.” 

CMPD responded that "All arresting officers were training in the protocols and procedures for handling evidence in a mass arrest environment. However, the practical application in the field was a lesson learned."

Charlotte elected officials had passed a law giving the city manager the power to declare certain gatherings “extraordinary events.” That designation marks off part of the city as an “event zone,” and gives police broad powers for search, seizures and arrests — all constitutional issues. 

(The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had also designated as a “National Special Security Event.” Similar laws were enacted at both political parties’ 2008 national conventions.) 

On the financial side, the Inspector General’s report found that the city largely complied with the grant requirements, but did receive “reimbursements for $79,311 in unallowable personnel costs. The city also received $53,676 to purchase two sport utility vehicles that it did not modify in ways certified to the BJA as being necessary, which served as the justification for the purchase. As a result, we recommend OJP remedy the $132,987 in unallowable or unnecessary grant reimbursements.”  (CMPD agreed with the findings, except for the one regarding sport utility vehicles.)

In the past 20-plus years, Smathers, who is white, started as patrol officer, where, according to his resume, he spearheaded an aggressive community outreach to Latino communities. As captain of the Charlotte Eastway Patrol Division, an ethnically diverse area of the city of 809,000, he received a community policing award for “leadership and reducing crime.”  

He also supervised the CMPD’s lab and evidence bureau, which is key for Durham. A years-long backlog at the state lab has resulted in suspects being jailed for months in Durham, even more than a year, without being convicted. Durham officials have floated the idea of funding a county crime lab or hiring technicians at the state lab that would work solely on local cases.

And while Smathers was head of the Criminal Investigations Bureau, CMPD reported a homicide clearance rate of 81 percent in 2014, compared with Durham, which had a clearance rate of 68.2 percent over the same time period. 

 CMPD has 1,850 officers, significantly more than Durham, which has roughly 500 — and a turnover rate of as many as 60 a year.

 Smathers clearly wants to be a chief — somewhere. Two years ago, he was shortlisted for the position at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Yes, he was willing to move to Iowa. 


Durham Police Chief finalists, Part 1: Atlanta Deputy Chief Cerelyn J. Davis

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Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis

Note: On Tuesday afternoon, City Manager Tom Bonfield announced the two finalists for Durham Police Chief, Atlanta Deputy Chief Cerelyn J. Davis and Major Michael J. Smathers of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. This is the first of two stories about the finalists; the second story will be posted on Wednesday. 

The city has posted the  finalists’ resumes. You ask questions in person at a public forum on Wednesday April 6, from 7 to 8 p.m. at Durham City Hall. The Q&A will be broadcast on the Government TV channel (8 for Time Warner, 99 for AT&T U-Verse), or livestreamed via the city’s Facebook page and website.

You can submit questions through April 4 via 919-560-1200, the city’s Facebook page, the city’s Twitter feed and by email at [email protected]


Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Cerelyn J. Davis (@1divacop) has wanted to lead a police department since the 1990s. And as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2008, she has been concerned that despite her many promotions, a controversy over a sex crimes investigation might derail that aspiration. 

“Two resumes on the table. They look exactly alike,” Davis was quoted in the Journal-Constitution. "One had some drama, and the other one didn't. It's easy to take the one that didn’t."

But in the case of Durham, both finalists have been embroiled in some level of controversy, which is to be expected with candidates of any substantial tenure. Bonfield anticipated that Durhamites know how to use Google, so in announcing the finalists, he tried to defuse those situations. He openly stating that Davis was exonerated after being discharged in 2008 when she was falsely accused of a cover up during a scandal in the City of Atlanta Police Department. Davis was fired — and then sued and was rehired — after an investigation into a fellow officer’s husband, who was indicted on child pornography charges.   

And Smathers, Bonfield said, “withstood significant pressure in 2013 as he investigated the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of Jonathan Ferrell and recommended a fellow officer be charged,” Bonfield noted. (More on that tomorrow.)

A 29-year veteran of law enforcement, Davis, who is African-American, has experience that directly relates to several issues facing Durham. She supervises the APD’s Strategy and Special Projects Division, which is largely a management position, including capital projects. Her insight into the need (or not) for a new DPD headquarters could be valuable. 

She’s also worked in internal affairs and community policing in a department of 2,008 officers.

Davis supports an initiative called “Live in the City You Protect,” which encourages Atlanta police officers to actually reside there: “Atlanta’s Police Foundation raises money to give officers an incentive to live in refurbished homes in Atlanta at no cost for two years. The more officers live in the neighborhoods they protect, the better their community relationship which prevents and solves crimes.”

Give her points for that stance: By comparison, only 42 percent of all Durham police officers live in Durham.

Davis would be, well, relieved isn’t the word, but perhaps emboldened, to tackle Durham’s homicide rate. The city recorded 37 murders last year — and January 2015 was the most violent month on record — but that pales compared to Atlanta. The city of 450,000, roughly twice as large as Durham, logged 95 murders in 2015, up from 93 the year prior and 83 in 2012. However, like Durham, Atlanta’s overall crime rate dropped.

Now for the downsides: As head of the Special Projects Division, Davis is responsible for aspects of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking enforcement and Homeland Security programs. Atlanta is a much larger city, with more interstate and airport traffic that makes it a prime drug trafficking area. However, Durham is not Atlanta. And Durham City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson recently questioned the propriety of DPD accepting federal grants for the drug trafficking interdiction in part because of the possibility, if not propensity, of racial profiling during these stops.

(In fact, according to a 2015 Inspector General’s report, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has been accused by state and local police of encouraging such behavior.)

As important and pertinent to Durham’s current situation is Atlanta’s handling of body camera policy. While not solely Davis’ call, “video integration” and body cameras do fall under her job description. 

In 2014, the Atlanta Citizen Review Board, roughly the equivalent of Durham’s Civilian Police Review Board, scrutinized the proposed policy and came up with several concerns, including consent, retention, privacy and access. 

And last November, the Atlantic reported that, “while no city police department was ideal. Two departments stood out in particular as having especially dreadful rules: Atlanta and Ferguson, Missouri. In every category that researchers examined, Atlanta and Ferguson either had a poor policy or failed to specify any policy at all.”

Atlanta has delayed its deployment of body cameras while a lawsuit over the bidding process works its way through the courts. 

Tomorrow we’ll look at Major Michael Jay Smathers’ public record. If you have more info on either of these candidates, email either Lisa Sorg ([email protected]) or Kevin Davis ([email protected]).

A night of high drama — and scolding — in the Farrington Road rezoning case

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Like most people in City Council Chambers Monday night, Durham attorney Ken Spaulding was doing the math. After more than an hour of Council debate and public comment, a controversial rezoning case of 19 acres along Farrington Road would soon be put to a vote. At this point, there were three for, two against, and two unknown. 

This was Spaulding’s last chance to win over the two question marks on behalf of his client, developer Wood Partners. 

“I’m going to throw away my notes,” said Spaulding, who last week lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary. And with that, he also threw away his statesmanship.

In a tone reminiscent of a parent scolding a 12-year-old for failing to clean his room, Spaulding unloaded on Council. “It’s fine to say what fine developers we are,” he barked. “The goals of the city are the goals that we’ve met [on this development]. I’m speaking up because you’re trying to set a precedent in regards to placing a moratorium on development in Durham.”

Councilman Don Moffitt did not appreciate what he called Spaulding’s" bullying" tactics.

Earlier in the meeting Moffitt had noted that of any project he has considered as a councilman, and in six years as a planning commissioner, “I’ve spent more time thinking about this one.”

Moffitt was leaning toward a yes vote, but after Spaulding’s diatribe, he told him, “You’re making this really hard.” 

The case before Council was a rezoning of 19.5 acres at 5708 Farrington Road, near N.C. 54, from a low-density designation to higher density. This would allow Wood Partners to construct  a mixed-use development, including 500 to 600 apartments on four of those acres. 

The developer would spend $1.7 million on road improvements — although they really would only offset the traffic impacts of the development. The service level of N.C. 54 would remain “D,” which is defined as “speed and the maneuverability are severely reduced. Low level of comfort for the driver, as he must constantly avoid collisions with other vehicles.”

Last December, the planning commission had voted against approving the development; Council had continued the case from February, in order to hear a March 10 affordable housing presentation from city consultant Karen Lado. Council wanted to consider her findings because  the Wood development would be near a proposed light-rail stop — Leigh Village. And just 20 of the 600 apartments — 4 to 5 percent — would be affordable, and built in Phase 2. That falls short of the city’s goal of 15 percent of affordable units within a half-mile of light-rail stops.

Also, Leigh Village area will eventually be in a compact neighborhood tier, a designation that allows for greater density, but whose actual implementation is still at least three years, if not more, away.

Part of the problem was not a legal one, per se — Wood Partners had checked off all of the city’s boxes for a rezone — but an existential one. For at least the past year, both the City Council and County Commissioners have maintained that Durham, now an attractive place to live, no longer has to cave to developers’ requests, even reasonable ones. 

Councilman Charlie Reece, one of the no votes, restated that point. “I could have supported this had it not been in the transit zone,” he said. “We have to be willing, as hard as it is, to look developers in the eye and say, ‘This time and this place that doesn’t work for us.’”

Continue reading "A night of high drama — and scolding — in the Farrington Road rezoning case" »

Why we need a renovated downtown Durham library: A case for a bond


Bob Thomas of Vines Architecture with a 3-D model of a proposed library design

Photo by Lisa Sorg

The last time fresh air reached the upper floors of the Main Branch of the Durham Public Library, Ronald Reagan was president. That’s just a guess, of course, but the air feels like 1982 — oppressive and stuffy, and possibly wearing shoulder pads.

This spring, the Durham County Commissioners are expected to vote on whether to place a bond referendum on the November ballot, which, if passed, would help pay for the estimated $40 million in renovations to the downtown main branch. 

Earlier this year, I read Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library by Wayne Wiegand. (Ironically, I had to buy it because of the long wait list for the book at all of the Durham library branches.) It’s a wonderful read, if redundant in parts, that explains the importance of the public library in civic and social life.

“Libraries had broader communal functions, including providing space for the emotional experience of community,” the book reads, “enabling discussion groups and at the same time cultivating a sense of freedom, status and social privilege.”

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That is why this investment is not only about upfitting a building. It’s about how a historically democratic (with a small d) community space figures in the overall scheme of a revived and largely privatized central business district. Libraries are one of the last non-commercial spaces, where people mingle, regardless of race of class. 

It’s also about how the this four acres could help transform downtown. It could connect Cleveland-Holloway with the center city; spark the transformation of the Downtown Loop from one way to two; enhance both the residential and commercial development of downtown’s east side. 

Indeed, libraries are the great equalizers.

To that end, Vines Architecture in Raleigh is redesigning the 65,000-square-foot building from scratch. When it’s finished, the new library will be 30 percent larger, 84,000 square feet, a lot of it glass.

“We’re stripping away everything, not just physically” but conceptually, as library officials re-envision the building’s purpose and function in the 21st century, said Victor Vines, the firms’ founding principal at a public meeting last month. “We don’t see the building being bashful.”

You’d be shy, too, if you were an architectural anachronism. Like suburban homes, the library has two front doors — the real one, facing Roxboro Street, which few people use — and another off the parking lot, out back, which functions as the de facto main entrance. 

Inside, parts of the library darker than a man cave, with few windows and little natural light. It’s hard to determine which floor is which. (More than once, I’ve mused to myself, “Wasn’t I just in nonfiction?”)

The current building was constructed in 1980, when libraries were considered “introverted repositories of books,” said Bob Thomas, Vines Architecture director of design.

However, the personality of the new library, with glass, open space and connectivity between floors and the indoors and outdoors, will be “outward,” Thomas said. “There will be connectivity with the city and transparency within and from the library,” he added.

With Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood, city and county services, the thriving Central Business District and the American Tobacco Campus all nearby, “There couldn’t be a better site for an urban public library,” Thomas said. “The library falls at the seam of all of those.”

The improvements include additional private study and community meeting rooms, an amphitheater, a business incubator, maker space to foster creativity and areas known as STEAM —science, technology, engineering, arts and math education — for both kids and adults. The new building will embody what library director Tammy Baggett said is “a place to learn, share, create and discover.”

According to schematics presented at two recent public meetings, a single entrance would be relocated to the corner of Liberty and Roxboro streets. (And if the Loop becomes two-way, perhaps patrons could cross the street without fear of dismemberment.)

The number of parking spaces will remain roughly the same. However, the lot will move closer to the building, and with green space and a community garden, become integrated with the library. The building will also be LEED certified for energy-efficiency, using natural light and possibly solar hot water.

Inside, visitors could be greeted by a Friends of the Library store, a cafe and a bank of computers. Upper floors would be flooded with natural light; the roof could even include a terrace or small garden.

“We want to physically express the ideas of discovery, community and literacy,” said Vines senior architect Jeff Schroeder. “We want this to be a place where people want to hang out, to be.”

Continue reading " Why we need a renovated downtown Durham library: A case for a bond" »

Veil of darkness: RTI study shows racial bias in Durham Police HEAT unit traffic stops

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 Note: The Durham Police Department is scheduled for a routine accreditation by CALEA, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The public can comment at an information session on Tuesday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m. in the second-floor committee room of City Hall. The public can also comment by phone on Monday, March 20, from 3 to 5 p.m.: 919-560-4594.

When RTI International and the Durham Police Department released data yesterday about racial disparity in traffic stops, the conclusions were not news to most of the city’s black residents.

At public forums, before City Council, and privately, among neighbors and friends who have story after story to tell, the RTI study proved — again — what most of us either knew or suspected: That there has been significant racial bias in traffic stops in Durham. 

Several aspects of this study, though, are different from previous analyses cited by other groups, which compared stop data by race against the racial make up of the overall city population. (RTI noted that approach is “insufficient to reliably identify racial disparity in traffic stops.”)

As important, though, the study exposed the gaps in the data that prevented DPD, the city and the public from honing in on the officers who are responsible for racially disproportionate stops. And while not part of the study, the subtext of its conclusions is that without public scrutiny, none of this may have ever come to light.

RTI, based in Research Triangle Park, analyzed DPD data of 151,700 traffic stops conducted from January 2010 to October 2015 — under the watch of then-Police Chief Jose Lopez. The study concluded there was a “Veil of Darkness” effect within DPD: Essentially, during the day, when it is easier for officers to determine a driver’s race, black drivers were more likely to be stopped by DPD. Black males were particularly at risk: Their odds of being pulled over by DPD were 20 percent higher during the day than at night.

RTI found no similar “Veil of Darkness” bias in Raleigh, Fayetteville or Greensboro.

The largest disparity between day and night stops occurred in 2012. That year, there was a 61 percent chance that the driver was a black man during daylight stops compared with 54 percent chance at night.

Yet, it was not the traffic patrol, but the HEAT unit, which focuses on drugs, vice and violent crime that was responsible for these stops. When these officers made a stop during the day, the odds of the motorist being black was 44 percent higher than a stop made at night. Factor in gender — male — and the odds increased to 76 percent for a daytime stop versus 69 percent for nighttime.

That the HEAT unit is making these stops is especially disturbing because of the nature of its work: Dealing with often highly volatile situations in which a clear-headed, unbiased response can be a matter of life and death. 

However, several key conclusions couldn’t be made because of a lack of data. From 2010-2014, there was a dearth of location information regarding the stops, which RTI called “problematic.” Without that information, RTI could not whether the racially disproportionate stops were occurring in particular districts or throughout the city in general. Nor was there sufficient information about the length of stop and the outcome — whether a driver was arrested, ticketed or merely warned.

The department is now required to keep more detailed data, after public complaints prompted several reforms within DPD. Although it’s difficult to definitively establish a cause-and-effect, public scrutiny of DPD appears to have worked.  RTI noted that the rate of racially disproportionate stops declined in 2014-2015. While RTI drew no conclusions for this decrease, it was precisely these years when citizens’ groups and social justice advocates demanded that city officials — the mayor and city manager, the Human Relations Commission and the Civilian Police Review Board — to scrutinize the behavior of DPD.

At the time, then-Police Chief Jose Lopez denied racial bias existed within DPD, and essentially dismissed community concerns. But after the city intervened, DPD was required to collect more data, more regularly, and publicly disclose them. 

The Human Relations Commission decided that despite Lopez’s assertions, racial bias was present at DPD. Other changes, such as written forms for consent searches, were put in place — although there are still questions about the rate of probable cause searches.

Last fall, Lopez resigned under pressure from his boss, City Manager Tom Bonfield. (Bonfield did not hire Lopez; now-City Attorney Patrick Baker brought Lopez on in 2007.)

Since December, Interim Police Chief Larry Smith, a 27-year veteran of DPD, has led the department. Publicly, anyway, Smith has inspired more confidence than his predecessor. He does seem less defensive and more transparent, for example, providing the public with more fine-grained data last month in DPD’s 2015 fourth quarter crime report.

After 18 drafts — literally — the Council walked back the general order on body cameras over civil liberties and transparency concerns; Smith complied, and without the protestations that characterized Lopez’s administration.

As for the study, Smith and DPD initiated it to evaluate if any policy changes are alleviating the problem of racial bias.

“This is a study that the Durham Police Department requested to determine the possibility of bias being a factor in our traffic stops and examine if the changes we’ve put in place sufficiently addressed those concerns,” Smith said in a DPD press release. “It’s essential that we get an objective view of our operations and in turn be willing to not only accept the findings, but continue to work toward putting the necessary tools in place to correct the issues this analysis revealed—and ensure that bias of any kind is never a part of police operations.

“We believe the improvements in the disproportionality are a result of the changes in our policies, procedures and training that we’ve instituted in the past few years. This shows that we are willing to listen to our community and make adjustments in our policing practices when necessary,” Smith said.

When more data become available, hopefully Durham will have a better handle on what’s happening, where. Nationwide, we already know how biased policing can damage minority communities, jailing black men — or worse — upending families, and by extension, perpetuating generational poverty. With that as a backdrop, building police trust with minority communities could take years.


Jacobs, Reckhow, Carter, Howerton, Hill take BOCC lead; Unruhe wins BOE

With all 57 precincts' tallies in, the unofficial Durham County Board of Elections results are in.

And it looks like two newcomers to the County Commission will take their seats after the general election in the fall.

Heidi Carter (third place) and James Hill (fifth place) have bested incumbents Michael Page (sixth) and Fred Foster (eighth) to join the county board.

Wendy Jacobs just edged Ellen Reckhow for the purely-symbolic first place win, while incumbent Brenda Howerton retained her seat with a fourth place finish.

The race for fifth wasn't settled until all the ballots were in -- Hill held a 1,200 to 1,400 point lead throughout most of the evening as returns came in. 

Hill and challenger Elaine Hyman, both People's Alliance endorsees, saw small surges when PA strongholds in west and southwest Durham reported in the late evening hours, but at night's end, Page retained a sixth-place finish and Howerton bested Hill by a little over 1,300 votes, though she trailed Carter by about 2,700 votes.

Meanwhile, veteran Riverside High teacher Steve Unruhe coasted to a win over Fredrick Ravin III, 62% to 37%.

Technically, these results are still unofficial; we wouldn't expect to see them change in the final tally, though we'll be interested to see if the impact of voter ID led to any greater numbers of provisional ballots than usual.

And, questions still remain as to the presence of very long lines at Forest View and especially the South Regional Library, where several hundred voters waited for hours past the 7:30 polls closing time, per this story in the Herald-Sun.

It's not clear that delays were universal -- when I went to my precinct at the Durham School of the Arts right at 5 p.m., I was in and out in five minutes -- making it all the more important to understand if equipment challenges, differential voter turnout or some other cause drove the delays.

Durham Sheriff's Office seeks public comment as part of reaccreditation

Of the 484 standards used to accredit law enforcement agencies, use of force and medical/health care services are two of them. And both of those issues are expected to arise at a public information session about the Durham County Sheriff's Office regularly scheduled accreditation. CALEA, the Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, is in charge of recertifying the sheriff's office.

You can comment at the session on Thursday, March 31, beginning at 6 p.m. in Conference Room B of the Health and Human Services Building, 414 E. Main St.  

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Those who can't make that meeting can comment by phone, also on March 31, from 1 to 3 p.m. at (919) 560-0871. Written comments about the Sheriff's Office accreditation can be mailed to: Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., (CALEA) 13575 Healthcote Boulevard, Suite 320, Gainesville, VA 20155.

For at least four months, the Durham County Sheriff's Office has been under scrutiny over the treatment of inmates, including one who died, allegedly as the result of poor medical care, and another who was roughed up by two detention officers. Those officers were fired and charged with assault. Since these incidents, protesters have demonstrated at the jail, demanding independent investigations of the jail and jail policies and procedures.

Here's the press release issued today by the sheriff's office:

"Durham, NC— The Durham County Sheriff's Office is seeking its sixth reaccreditation by The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) beginning March 29, 2016. As part of the reaccreditation process, the public is invited to provide comment about the Sheriff's Office during a public information session March 31, 2016. The session begins at 6 p.m. at the Health and Human Services Building, Conference Room B located at 414 East Main Street in Durham.  

The Sheriff's Office will receive public comments by phone on March 31 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at (919) 560-0871. Written comments about the Sheriff's Office accreditation can be mailed to: Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., (CALEA) 13575 Healthcote Boulevard, Suite 320, Gainesville, VA 20155.  

Comments made at the public information session and by telephone are limited to 10 minutes and must specifically address the Sheriff's Office ability to comply with the accreditation standards mandated by CALEA. A copy of the standards is available at the Durham County Sheriff's Office located at 510 South Dillard Street in Durham. Contact Sgt. J.P. Carden at (919) 560-7496 for additional information. 

The Sheriff's Office earned its initial accreditation in August 1998. The reaccreditation process occurs every three years and it ensures the Sheriff's Office is complying with 484 CALEA standards. The Sheriff's Office was one of the first sheriff's offices in North Carolina to maintain CALEA accreditation. For more information about CALEA, please visit"

The affordable housing possibilities at the soon-to-be old Durham Police Department

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Here’s a morning mental exercise: This fall, Durham County is expected to place a bond referendum on the ballot to help pay for a $40 million major renovation of the Main Library downtown. The bond will likely pass — let's hope — because libraries are beloved, vital community resources.

Now, if $81 million in funding for the new Durham Police Department were put to a bond referendum, would voters pass it? I’m not so sure.

Last night, Durham Beyond Policing held a public protest at DPD headquarters objecting to the city’s financial priorities: the money budgeted from city coffers for the new DPD mothership on East Main Street versus funding for affordable housing, free and expanded public transit, living wages for city workers, restorative justice.

Realistically, it’s doubtful that the city will cancel the deal. It’s just too far in the process, with Council approving the architectural designs last month.

However, there’s an opportunity here: The current headquarters at 505 W. Chapel Hill St., is prime, city-owned real estate for affordable housing. The building sits on 4.1 acres of land, 3.35 of it surface parking — quite a waste.

It’s next to the bus station and across the street from the Amtrak stop. In other words, ideal for low-income households, especially those earning less than $25,000 a year. There’s a serious shortage of housing for the very poor, a point that Karen Lado of Enterprise Community Partners underscored to Council last week in her presentation about a proposed affordable housing strategy.

One of the goals Lado laid out was adding 300 units citywide over the next five years for these households — “particularly near transit lines and rapidly appreciating neighborhoods.”


That sounds like 505 W. Chapel Hill St.

There needs to be a public discussion on which is the wisest course to develop the land for this purpose: a City/Durham Housing Authority partnership, a nonprofit, such as Self-Help, or a private developer, albeit one that is required to allocate a percentage of the units as affordable. 

(That type of “inclusionary zoning” is illegal in North Carolina on private land, but the city has more latitude to place covenants on its parcels.)

To add urgency to this situation, consider that over the next five years, subsidies on 1,240 of 6,100 privately owned, affordable units in Durham will expire — 930 of them by the end of 2017. These units have generally been subsidized via low-income housing tax credits and Section 8 programs. The apartments/homes, many concentrated in Northeast-Central Durham, could become market-rate, thus creating an even more severe housing crisis for the poor.

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Need more urgency? Landlords are bowing out of the Section 8 program because they can charge higher market rates without having to navigate the inspections and paperwork from the Durham Housing Authority. 

There also needs to be a public discussion about the fate of the building, which needs at least $4 million worth of rehab. At one time, the building, which in the late 1950s, originally housed Home Security Life insurance company, looked swanky, with a lot of glass. But now, of the Mid-century modern style buildings downtown — the Durham Hotel, the old Jack Tar motel, for example — DPD HQ is the least attractive because of the tinted windows, security grating and other fortress-like architectural details that accompany a structure devoted to law enforcement. (O’Brien/Atkins, the architects on the new DPD HQ, have been directed: No fortress on East Main.) 

Durham Beyond Policing has valid concerns about the $81 million expenditure. But I’m ready to cry Uncle and acknowledge that a new station will be built. Yet in doing so, we should consider what can be gained on those four acres on West Chapel Hill Street. 



Durham Public Schools Board of Education: Steven Unruhe versus Frederick Ravin

This story by Lisa Sorg originally appeared in the Durham News on March 8.

To sit on the Durham Public Schools Board of Education is to wrestle with some of the most central issues facing the county today: revamping a shrinking budget, attracting and retaining teachers to a low-paying profession, and closing a stubborn achievement gap that carries lifelong consequences for disadvantaged students.

This election, few candidates signed up for the task. Incumbent Minnie Forte-Brown and newcomer Xavier Cason, a DPS teacher, are running unopposed in Consolidated Districts A and B, respectively.

In the only contested race, the at-large seat, Steven Unruhe, who taught math, computer science and journalism in DPS for 30 years, is running against Frederick Ravin, a 1998 graduate of Southern High School and a computer systems coordinator at the City of Durham.

Unruhe, who retired in July, is emphasizing his experience as an award-winning teacher. “I understand how the educational process works,” he said, “and I bring a more complex understanding of all of these issues.”

Ravin, is underscoring his perspective as a product of Durham Public Schools. “I see things from a student perspective,” he said. “I came up through the ranks.”

Since last summer, the DPS budget has been scrutinized, particularly by the county commissioners, for what some view as disproportionate administrative costs compared with spending on the classroom.

Ravin cited his analytical background as a way “to get control on the entire fiscal management” and to examine DPS’s administrative costs. “We don’t want to lay anybody off, but we need to look at the actual hierarchy of DPS and review the process.”

Unruhe said the criticism is the result of greater fiscal transparency under current Superintendent Bert L’Homme. “They’re getting beat up when they moved us forward,” Unruhe said, adding that if elected, he would analyze the spending and then “carefully make decisions about reprioritizing.”

In some cases, the data tells only part of the story, Unruhe said. For example, the transportation budget is larger than in some similar-size districts because DPS runs extra routes for students attending specialized and magnet schools. In addition, DPS runs routes to a lot of individual homes. “We would have a higher dropout rate if we didn’t do that,” Unruhe said. Bus drivers also work full-time and receive benefits. “I would argue that is something the county should do,” Unruhe said. “We haven’t done a good job of explaining that to county commissioners.”

Ravins said he would also allocate more resources to lower-performing students than gifted children. “If you can bring up the entire school score, it helps higher-achieving students,” he said. “A 5.0 GPA is more competitive when they’re trying to get into college.”

In 2014, more than 1,000 teachers left North Carolina for similar jobs in other states, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. That is equivalent to a 14.8 percent turnover, the highest rate since 2010.

In Durham the turnover rate is even higher – 20 percent – due in part to low pay, long hours and a lack of administrative support, Unruhe said.

A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and less than four years’ experience earns $35,000 annually; teachers with advanced degrees and decades of experience can earn about $60,000.

“We need options to keep experienced teachers in the classroom,” Unruhe said. He recommends a starting wage of $40,000, with salaries increasing to $65,000 or $70,000 for veteran teachers.

Unruhe said the board should examine how much time teachers spend on non-instructional activities, lunch duty, for example. “Those are not written in stone.”

Teachers with advanced science, technology and math training, should also be rewarded, Ravin said, with an additional $5,000 in annual salary for those with master’s degrees. “Money isn’t the only answer,” Ravin said. “Teachers need a support system.”

On that point, both candidates agree. Unruhe said there is no method to gauge how or if teachers feel supported by school administrators. He recommends what is known as a 360-degree evaluation, in which a teacher’s peers, supervisors and assistants provide feedback about the working environment. “It tells the administration what’s important,” Unruhe said.

Test scores, the primary measurement for school success, aren’t the best way to evaluate teachers or students, both candidates said.

“Colleges are graded by their alumni,” said Ravin, who would also support single-gender schools to help children succeed. “In DPS, we’ve had people who’ve gone on to do great things. But sometimes you don’t know that for five, 10, 20 years.”

Teachers can better gauge student performance than a test, Unruhe said. “We spend time on objective performance because we don’t trust subjective ones.”

 Election Day is March 15.

▪ Frederick Ravin:

▪ Steven Unruhe:

▪ Xavier Carson:


Affordable housing: Live blogging the Durham City Council meeting, March 10

It's a long agenda today, with several affordable housing items and a non-controversial, albeit, welcome item regarding the city's lease with Liberty Arts Foundry. The City Council is also expected to pass a resolution supporting the collective bargaining/unionization rights of non-tenure track faculty at Duke University. Download Durham City Council Work Session Agenda - March 10 2016

Note: Affordable housing discussion starts below, time listed as 2:34 p.m.

We'll blog the highlights. Note: Sometimes many minutes elapse between them.

1:03: Mayor Bill Bell wants to dedicate a full, special meeting to the affordable housing issue and presentation. Stand by: This item may not be discussed today.

1:06: Presentation will happen today, but there will be subsequent meeting to devote to it.

1:11: Briar Green Apartments, 500 Danube Lane, financed with bonds up to $19.9 million. This is in North Durham, near Hebron Road.

1:15: The City Council resolution supporting the Duke non-tenure track faculty. Cora Cole-McFadden prefers the term "endorse," but it passes unanimously.

Steve Schewel: This is 200 units for 30 percent to 60 percent AMI built by a private developer using a 4 percent tax credit. This is a tremendous win. 

1:37: Regarding an audit of city employees'  dependents' eligibility of health care benefits:

Jillian Johnson: Only 10 of 1,460 or so city employees' dependents were found not to be eligible for benefits [but receiving them.] It seems like it would cost more to do the audit

Germaine Brewington of the city: Statistically across the country, about 5 percent are ineligible. We're going to do this audit again, but a sample of 50%. It's my opinion we should do this audit every year. The results this time were favorable because of the up front work that was done.

Schewel: We found so few because 170 fewer children and 140 fewer spouses were signed up by employees who were concerned they would be found not to be eligible.

1:42: Item 6: Regarding Grants for High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Enforcement

Johnson: First time I heard that we receive xxx It's becoming increasingly clear that the mass incarceration is being driven by drug policies that disproportionately affect people of color. Is use of this drug funding a priority? Should we consider continuing to accept this money?

City staff: This is money allowed to be used to coordinate law enforcement at local, state and federal level. We get $250,000 year from this office to do that.

Reece: To do what?

City staff: To do drug enforcement.

Bell: High-intensity drug trafficking can mean a lot of things to different people.

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