DURHAM — The Durham Police Department has suspended motor-vehicle checkpoints in response to growing immigration fears, Chief C.J. Davis announced Monday.
“DPD remains committed to addressing the concerns and expectations of all community members and therefore, last week suspended department-initiated traffic checkpoints,” Davis said in a statement. “This was done to dispel fears that have currently arisen and to further encourage sustainable relationships with the diverse community we serve.”
The department will continue to participate in multi-jurisdictional highway safety campaigns, such as Booze It & Lose It and Click It or Ticket, Davis said.
Checkpoints are under scrutiny after a Durham County Sheriff’s Office traffic checkpoint Feb. 20 near the School for Creative Studies in Durham County.
The Sheriff’s Office says it was responding to speeding complaints and that the checkpoint was 2.4 miles from the school, which has a 22 percent Hispanic enrollment.
But El Centro Hispano (The Hispanic Center) and some school officials criticized it, saying it happened late on a Monday afternoon when parents may have been passing through on the way to picking up their children.
“Considering that Immigration and Customs Enforcement have deported individuals for infractions as minor as license violations, this means that your officers’ actions are directly threatening the livelihoods of people who are residing and working in our community,” Brian Callaway, the coordinator of energy and sustainability at Durham Public Schools, wrote in an open letter to local law enforcement and school leaders.
“I reckon that I am not alone when I say that I do not want my tax dollars being utilized locally in a method that directly threatens peaceful members of our own community,” he wrote.
The checkpoint might not have occurred in neighboring counties.
In Orange County, the sheriff’s office and the Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough police departments agreed after hearing concerns last summer not to hold checkpoints near schools when parents are dropping off and picking up children, Chief Deputy Jamie Sykes of the Sheriff’s Office said in an email.
In an interview, Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison would not rule out holding a checkpoint near a school, but said, “I don’t know of one since I’ve been here.” Harrison has been sheriff since 2002.
Two days after the Feb. 20 checkpoint Tamara Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, emphasized the action was about speeding and noted a similar action last September near Jordan High School that she said also followed complaints about speeding during hours of peak pedestrian traffic.
But by the end of the week, Gibbs said the department was taking a closer look at the practice.
“This agency is definitely having discussions about the fear that is in this community,” she said, “and how we can better help people feel safe … feel they are not being hunted.”
The number varies by month, but Durham police held 17 checkpoints in four patrol districts in January, spokeswoman Kammie Michael said in an email.
“The checkpoints are usually based on concerns from the community and commanders for issues such as speeding and traffic accidents,” Michael said. “District commanders and supervisors usually decide when they will be held.”
Motor vehicle checkpoints are controversial, Jeffrey Welty, an expert in criminal law and procedure, wrote in a 2010 UNC School of Government bulletin.
In North Carolina, state law allows motor vehicle checkpoints to detect impaired driving and other motor vehicle violations. Motor-vehicle checkpoints may not be used for general crime control, he wrote.
State law requires checkpoints be placed randomly or where “statistically indicated,” which Welty interpreted as meaning the law enforcement agency has reason to believe an area has “more problems than other locations ‘with unlicensed or unregistered drivers,’ impaired drivers or motor-vehicle violations in general.”
Raul Pinto, an immigration attorney at the N.C. Justice Center, said that has not kept some law enforcement agencies in North Carolina from setting up motor-vehicle checkpoints in majority-minority communities, like outside an apartment complex or mobile home park.
“I don’t think any court has defined what ‘statistically indicated’ means,” he said.
License and registration
What happens when drivers can’t produce their license and registration?
Officers have some discretion. People who can’t comply typically get a verbal or written warning — say, if the officer believes they have a license, just not with them — or a citation (ticket).
“By law the deputy can bring the driver without a license before a magistrate, but the agency tries to avoid that by asking for other forms of ID,” Gibbs said.
One form being used in Orange and Durham counties is the Faith ID, an unofficial alternative ID promoted by Durham-based El Centro Hispano after the state stopped accepting the matricula consular, a Mexican ID card that the FBI said was subject to fraud and forgery.
El Centro has enrolled about 1,800 people in the Faith ID program, which requires proof of identification and address, said director Pilar Rocha-Goldberg.
Even when drivers can’t comply, checkpoints rarely lead to immigration problems.
The exception can occur when an officer arrests someone upon evidence of a crime or on a warrant.
Once a person is booked and fingerprinted, a set of prints is sent to the State Bureau of Investigation.
If the person is wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the system flags the fingerprints and a technician sends a notice of arrest to ICE, which can ask the jail to detain the person.
If no detainer is issued, the person may leave the jail on bond or upon a magistrate or judge’s order.
If a detainer is received, the person will remain in jail until his or her case is adjudicated, Gibbs said.
Once all charges are adjudicated, the arresting agency notifies ICE, which has a 48 hour deadline in which to take custody, after which the detainee is released, she said.
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