The Orange County Local Reentry Council, in partnership with the Towns of Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, hosted this virtual event on June 25, 2020. I was honored to introduce the event and welcome the more than 100 community members in attendance.
In a previous post, I discussed the important policy and training work that the Carrboro Police Department has done over the past year. Some of this work—such as developing a policy for the use of police cameras—predates the latest national wave of attention on law enforcement issues. Other work by the department is underway in response to questions and concerns that community members shared during the town’s October community forum on policing.
(I neglected to mention in my last post that the department also spent the past year training officers in the use of naloxone kits to reverse effects of heroin and other opiate overdoses. This initiative has already saved a life in Carrboro, the first such incident in North Carolina. It’s a good example of the department’s human services model of policing and another demonstration of Carrboro leading the way.)
Today I’m writing to provide an update on early progress on items in my previous summary and to share some notes from three meetings I attended recently.
First, a Few Updates
- In early December, Police Chief Walter Horton and both police captains attended an Organizing Against Racism racial equity workshop. The department is exploring opportunities for future training opportunities for administrative staff.
- The department is partnering with other law enforcement agencies in Orange and Durham Counties to enroll officers in the Fair and Impartial Policing “train the trainer” program, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2015.
- The department is working with Orange County public defender James Williams and civil rights attorney Ian Mance of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice to develop reports for tracking data in the department’s record-keeping system. Also, at James Williams’s suggestion, the department has been in contact with the UCLA Center for Policing Equity to make arrangements for review of the department’s data.
- The department is planning another community forum on policing for June 2015.
- The department is in contact with the Durham Police Department to obtain information about its recently adopted policy to require written consent for searches.
- Finally, I expect that the Board of Aldermen will consider including body-worn police cameras in the town’s budget for the next fiscal year.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Forum
I was pleased to be able to attend a forum on January 3 at the Rogers Road Community Center hosted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Branch of the North Carolina NAACP. The forum, moderated by Carrboro activist Diane Robertson, featured a question-and-answer session with Chief Horton, Chief Chris Blue of Chapel Hill, and Sheriff Charles Blackwood.
The forum reaffirmed for me the central importance of acknowledging, understanding, and addressing racial disparities in law enforcement. Attendees of the forum also expressed interest in greater transparency related to law enforcement agency policies (for example, policies on the use of force) and procedures for filing and resolving complaints.
Meeting With Residents
Also on January 3, Alderwoman Michelle Johnson and I had the opportunity to meet with two Carrboro residents, Geoff Gilson and Amanda Ashley, who have been paying close attention to policing issues and advocating for changes in policing policies and methods.
As in the NAACP forum, an important feature of our conversation was transparency. We talked about the possibility of making existing policies more readily available. Questions related to whether policies could be published on the town website; rules of engagement and policies on the use of force; and the process for investigating uses of force (specifically, deadly force).
We also discussed bringing greater structure to ongoing efforts to engage the community in shaping law enforcement policy, and being clearer about next steps so that community members know about opportunities for participation. For example, we talked about formalizing the structure of upcoming community forums, particularly in relation to making the forums goal-oriented and requiring a follow-up report to the Board of Aldermen after each forum.
Shortly after the October community forum, the police chief raised the idea of focusing each subsequent forum on a particular policing topic. I like the idea of devoting forums to particular topics, identifying important questions and concerns on the basis of community participation in those forums, setting clear goals, and measuring and reporting outcomes. Stay tuned for the next forum, tentatively planned for June 2015.
UNC Law School Conference
Finally, on January 23, I was able to attend most of a daylong program on policing at the UNC School of Law. The conference, “Police Violence in the Wake of Ferguson and Staten Island,” was sponsored by the UNC Law Clinical Programs and the UNC Center for Civil Rights. (For a collection of tweets from the conference, including my own, check out the #UNC2Ferguson hashtag on Twitter.)
Speaker after remarkable speaker at the conference—scholars, lawyers, civil rights activists, and community organizers—offered insights into the racialized history of law enforcement in the United States, troubling overviews of traffic stop data in North Carolina municipalities (including dramatic numbers from Carrboro), and strategies for reducing racial disparities in policing.
A few links:
- Professor Frank Baumgartner of UNC Chapel Hill has analyzed data on 17 million traffic stops in North Carolina. See http://www.unc.edu/~fbaum/traffic.htm.
- Recommended reading from keynote speaker Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund: American Apartheid (Massey and Denton); Black Wealth, White Wealth (Oliver and Shapiro); Sundown Towns (Jim Loewen); The Warmth of Other Suns (Elizabeth Wilkerson); and “The Case for Reparations” (Coates).
I was glad to hear speakers talk not only about history and context, but also about solutions. Sherillyn Ifill offered three thoughts:
- Implicit bias training for law enforcement officers and other people in positions of public trust. This training should be seen as a part of the professionalism of policing.
- Body-worn cameras.
- Don’t simply stop implementing bad policies and making bad investments. Undertake policy changes and make investments that reverse the negative effects of previous and existing policies and investments.
Mark-Anthony Middleton, a pastor and community organizer, spoke about recent successes in Durham:
- mandatory periodic review of traffic stop data;
- mandatory racial equity training;
- less emphasis on enforcement of marijuana-related violations; and
- mandatory written consent for consensual searches of vehicles and homes.
These approaches are good starting points for discussion, and most are already under consideration in Carrboro. Please continue to be in touch with the Board of Aldermen at email@example.com if you have thoughts about policing and other issues. We want and need to hear from you.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.)