Some lawmakers want secret Durham police misconduct files made public

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Discipline of Durham Police officers for misconduct dropped last year, records obtained by North Carolina News show.

In 2014, 32 officers were suspended and two demoted. But in 2015, suspensions dropped to 23 and one demotion. Only one officer was fired for wrongdoing in each of those years.

Further CBS North Carolina investigation found some officers are repeat offenders. For example, Mike Hodrick has been suspended seven times in the past two years.

“When you hear somebody getting suspended multiple times, three or four times in a year, that’s a huge red flag,” said police expert Chuck Drago, a retired police chief.

North Carolina laws allow the Durham Police Department to keep secret the reasons why Hodrick and his colleagues were suspended or demoted.

However, Drago said, “The community has a right to know what kind of police officers they have.” He added that secrecy diminishes public trust.

“These departments are not secret societies or closed societies,” he said. “They are public entities which should be completely open to the communities they serve.”

A Durham Police spokesman, in a statement, said the current system “subjects officers to corrective action when they behave improperly.”

But critics argue there is no way to test whether that’s true because the public cannot access officers’ personnel files.

“The public has a right to know,” Drago said.

Some state legislators believe it is time to reconsider keeping misconduct records secret.

At least four state lawmakers – Graig Meyer, Paul Luebke, Floyd McKissick Jr.  and Mickey Michaux – are considering introduction of a new proposed law that would make public the reason for suspensions and demotions.

“All of that ought to be revealed,” McKissick said. “It should be available to the public.  There needs to be transparency.”

McKissick said making disciplinary files public also builds public trust and confidence in police.

“That’s what we want – openness, transparency,” McKissick said.

“I think most of our law enforcement officers are good officers and do a good job,” McKissick added. “But we do have bad apples, and for those bad apples we need to know who they are, we need to know the misconduct they’ve engaged in and we need to rid ourselves of those troubled officers.”

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