Homegrown officer helps Durham police increase community engagement

By Sean Maroney, WNCN
Original article HERE

Durham is a city of change with a lot of new faces, and not just among its residents.

It’ll soon have its first new mayor in 16 years and a new city council.

But Durham’s newest police chief C.J. Davis’ focus on community engagement is relying on a familiar face to many in the Bull City.

“Sharing a cup of coffee, [it’s] just good to talk to people,” Durham Police Capt. Walter Tate said after taking a sip from his cup at the Durham Unscripted Hotel.

More than a dozen people, including some of Tate’s brothers in blue with the Durham Police Department, crowded the hotel’s café on a recent morning. Clumps of people were engaged in different conversations with some discussions crossing over, either with earnest questions and answers or in laughter.

“Now I’m kind of cutting out a lot of sugar, so I can fit in this uniform,” Tate said with a laugh as he patted his stomach and looked around at the people gathered.

On the recent fall morning “Coffee with a Cop Day” was spread out citywide and aimed at breaking down barriers between Durham’s residents and police officers. It’s part of a nationwide initiative.

“Hey, what’s up, my man!” Tate exclaimed as he hugged a barber from down the street who walked by with a grin and greeting at the event. He and Tate knew each other as kids, and they share several laughs as they remember old times.

“It was good times!” Tate said with a wistful smile.

Sitting with Tate, it’s plain to see that there aren’t many barriers as he effortlessly moves from one conversation to another through the mix of adults who represent a sample of Durham’s diversity across ages and races.

“I like people, and I like being around people, so I’m happy,” Tate said.

Tate acknowledged that there aren’t many places he can go in the city without someone recognizing him or knowing him, either because they grew up together or he’s had dealings with them in his current job — or a mix of both.

Tate has spent nearly a quarter of a century with the Durham Police Department, but he’s born and bred in the Bull City.

It’s no surprise he thinks his job as the department’s “Community Resource Unit” leader is a perfect fit.

“Sometimes all people want you to do is listen to them,” Tate explained. “They just want you to listen to them, and it doesn’t require you saying any more than just having an ear and being a sounding board for them.”

But Tate does more than just listen. The Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Club of Durham — where he was a fixture as a kid — inducted him this year into its Emanuel Croslan Hall of Fame.

He’s coached local youth sports teams, organized camping trips for kids and much more as part of the police community services division.

“I think it’s imperative that everybody on this Earth gives some of their time to a worthy cause to help people,” Tate said with conviction.

Tate chooses his words carefully when asked about his thoughts on how most of the news reported out of Durham isn’t always positive, including the recent incidents of gun violence and riot police responding to protestors who shut down traffic over the summer in downtown because of rumors that a Ku Klux Klan rally was imminent.

“It’s tough,” Tate said. “I think we’ve done a good job at trying to balance things.”

“We don’t want to hurt anybody, and we don’t want anybody to hurt us,” Tate explained. “We also want to respect the rights of people and what they have to say [and] that goes back to [us] listening to the community.”

In a bid to foster more opportunities for listening, Davis has tasked Tate’s team with even more engagement, including more Citizens Police Academies throughout the year.

It’s at academies where Durham residents can experience the training that goes into split-second decisions officers have to make, including those that led to a peaceful resolution to the summer’s stand-off with protesters.

“The ultimate goal for everybody is to live peacefully and have a good quality of life,” Tate said.

“I remember [the] Durham where I would leave my bike outside at 909 Holloway Street all night, and nobody would touch it,” Tate continued. “So I’ve seen a transition in things. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go in all arenas.”

That said, he’s hopeful for the future.

“Where’s your heart at?” Tate asked rhetorically with his finger tapping his chest. “Wherever your heart [is] at is where you’re going to be.”

And for Tate, his heart is in Durham.

“It really is, and that’s where I’m going to be,” Tate said with a laugh.

“Drinking coffee,” he added with another laugh and raising his cup in a toast, before moving on to greet another group of people.