Next Steps in Carrboro Policing

Renewed focus on law enforcement after yet more instances of police violence around the country—most notably in Ferguson, Missouri—has brought many of us together to consider a local response. A variety of steps by the Town of Carrboro in the past year present a good opportunity to catalog some of the work going on with our Police Department. Most important is a set of first steps being taken by town staff, informed by conversation with community members in a recent community forum, which I summarize below. I then describe a few other items of interest related to Carrboro (and Orange County) policing. My fellow board members and I welcome your thoughts about these issues. You can reach us by e-mail at

Community Forum and Next Steps

On October 6, the town hosted a forum to hear community members’ concerns, questions, and ideas about policing in Carrboro. Several dozen community members attended the forum. Police Chief Walter Horton, the town manager, several other members of town staff, and members of the Board of Aldermen were also present.

On November 18, in follow-up to the forum, Chief Horton presented a report to the Board of Aldermen in which he identified the major themes that emerged during the forum on the basis of attendees’ comments: racial equity training, racial profiling and bias, fear of police by people of color, community and citizen engagement, and restorative justice. (Agenda materials and video from the meeting are available on the town website.)

Chief Horton identified several actions as a first step in addressing the issues raised in the forum. These actions include:

  • racial equity training of police personnel;
  • improved records management and statistical data and work with the public defender’s office to identify racial profiling and alter policing methods accordingly;
  • targeted conversations with specific community groups, especially young people of color; and
  • additional community engagement activities, including at least 2 community forums per year, the next tentatively scheduled for June 2015.

In addition to the actions identified in Chief Horton’s report, the Board of Aldermen directed the staff to include the following items in their next update:

  • update on participation of the chief and the captains in the Organizing Against Racism program;
  • update on participation in the Fair and Impartial Policing program, including cooperation with other local police departments;
  • update on the potential for implementing a citizens’ police academy;
  • update on further conversations and work with the Orange County public defender’s office, including improvements to the Police Department’s record keeping and statistics reporting;
  • update on planning for the next community forum or listening session, possibly in June 2015;
  • information about the City of Durham’s recent adoption of a requirement to obtain written consent for searches and what such a policy might look like in Carrboro;
  • information about how the Police Department’s law enforcement resources are currently allocated in terms of the share of arrests, citations, etc for different kinds of incidents;
  • plan to include in upcoming budget discussions the possibility of staff-wide racial equity training;
  • update on a follow-up with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools about student safety concerns in the schools;
  • information about a potential forum or conversation with persons interested in discussing domestic violence; and
  • information about other resources or support the Police Department may need from the Board.

Stay tuned for coming opportunities to shape policing policy in our town, including additional community forums, departmental outreach efforts to neighborhoods and community groups, and more.

Other Issues

There’s more going on in our local law enforcement world, some of which I summarize below.

  • I’ll begin with an exciting development that came up this week. During Monday’s meeting of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Mark Dorosin petitioned the board to work with newly elected Sheriff Charles Blackwood on a gun buyback program for the county. Sheriff Blackwood confirmed that he is interested in initiating such a program. When I spoke with the sheriff after the meeting, he raised the idea of a joint program with the Town of Carrboro and other municipalities. Stay tuned.
  • In July, the Police Department launched the Police to Citizen (P2C) incident reporting system, which enables public access to police incident reports, arrest reports, and traffic crash reports. P2C allows users to search, map, download, and print police reports.
  • In June 2013, the Board of Aldermen approved the purchase of in-car cameras for police vehicles. The cameras went into use this fall after several months of work with the Police Department, legal staff of the ACLU of North Carolina, and others to develop a policy that addresses concerns about the cameras’ proper use. The mobile recording system policy addresses when the cameras are activated and deactivated, access to and retention of recordings, disciplinary actions for violations of the policy, and more. I hope that this comprehensive policy can become a model for other communities in North Carolina.
  • Finally, some community members (including the police chief) have expressed interest in acquiring body-worn cameras for police officers. The Board of Aldermen will likely consider this issue in the next budget cycle. An important concern for me in this decision is the same concern I expressed about dashboard cameras: having an appropriate policy governing their use. The Police Department has already begun drafting such a policy, similar to the in-car camera policy, in consultation with the ACLU of North Carolina and others. I’m interested in knowing your thoughts about whether body cameras are the way to go for Carrboro. Meanwhile, below is a collection of tweets from Seth Stoughton (@policelawprof)—a former police officer and now assistant professor of law at the University of South Carolina—regarding the benefits and limitations of body cameras. (Thanks to Bethany Chaney [@Chaney4Carrboro] for the tip.)