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Durham County Sheriff’s statement on Duke football presentation

Durham County Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead issued a written statement in response to inquiries from The 9th Street Journal. The full text of the statement is included below:

In September 2021, my office (DCSO) was first approached by the Duke University football program to make a brief presentation to their players to discuss “what to do when stopped by the police.” Our point of contact and the Duke employee who made the initial approach was Will Cole, Director of Player Development. It is our understanding Mr. Cole is still associated with Duke athletics. DCSO accepted the invitation because we think it is important to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community, especially here in Durham.

After being welcomed by then Head Coach David Cutcliffe, I introduced a member of our SCOPE Unit who gave the presentation. SCOPE is an acronym for “Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort.SCOPE’s mission statement is to perform numerous functions including funeral escorts, event security and traffic control, traffic enforcement, impaired driving education, community watch, and much more to help build and maintain relationships with Durham County residents. I highlight the italicized part to justify the reason why my office accepted the invitation from Duke football.

The presentation we shared in mid-October 2021 can be interpreted as uncomfortable because the cited references from the United States Justice Department are concerning. The relationship between the black community and law enforcement has always been strained. This strained relationship is highlighted by the recent protests arising from police-citizen encounters and specifically officer-involved shootings and use of force; some of which occur during traffic stops. The presentation was not intended to assign blame to either law enforcement or citizens. Rather, the presentation was intended to spark a dialogue between police and citizens.

As Sheriff, part of my responsibility is to address the disconnect that has existed between law enforcement and the community. This includes sharing data and other information related to these encounters. The conversation with the Duke football team, and our youth, is an opportunity I welcome and would accept again. The presentation is something we have shared before and this is the first time we have received feedback like this. We felt then, and still feel now, the subject matter is the reason several players in the audience might have concerns.

Alison Jones