Local/State

Lopez responds to allegations of racial discrimination in memo

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Durham police chief is defending himself against allegations of racial discrimination.

While he's not speaking publicly, Chief Jose Lopez is sounding off in an internal memo obtained by ABC11. It went out to hundreds of Durham Police Department employees.

The chief's supporters say this was an attempt to boost morale. His critics, however, call it damage control after race discrimination charges.

"Race discrimination within the police department is something everyone should be concerned about," said Assistant Police Chief Winslow Forbes earlier this week as he laid out his concerns in an EEOC complaint.

Now, Lopez is firing back. He issued an internal memo Lopez calling it "community praise," saying in part, "With the recent negative media representation of members of the Durham police, community members who have observed these messages have taken the time to call me or stop me when they encounter me. These calls and encounters reflect a broad cross-section of the Durham community."

He goes on to say the community feedback is, "A message of encouragement and support and their witness to the [department's] professionalism."

Lopez's critics call this damage control following Forbes' claims he and other black officers have endured racially discriminatory comments and actions by the chief.

Forbes says he was twice denied a promotion for speaking out. There are complaints he took to the city's human resources department sparking an internal investigation that failed to substantiate Forbes' claims.

The department's own policy may be the reason why. While the department is supposed to ensure the "fair and equitable treatment" of all employees, the police chief has full "authority" when it comes to decisions about promotions and appointments.

It's a policy that may lend itself to discrimination, according to Forbes who alleges the chief denied a female captain candidate a promotion two years ago because of the way she speaks.

ABC11 has learned she was promoted to captain last year.

Because of the pending investigation, our request to interview that female captain was denied.

As for the chief's memo, we asked if it was appropriate considering the pending the investigation.

A city spokesperson says it simply was an effort to show the police force community appreciation for their work, saying in part, "It simply indicates the Chief's efforts to communicate to his staff and present a more balanced picture about community appreciation of their collective efforts to serve Durham."

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durham county, local/state, tamara gibbs
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