The Carrboro Police Department has hired a consultant to review a 2014 report that found evidence of racial bias in the department’s policing. Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton made the announcement at a public forum held Monday night.
Concerns about racial profiling in the Carrboro Police Department came to the fore after UNC-Chapel Hill professor Frank Baumgartner released a report last year showing that in Carrboro, black and Latino drivers were more likely than white drivers to be stopped and searched. The police department held a forum to discuss racial profiling last fall. Chief Horton says the department has taken several recommendations that came out of last year’s forum, including racial equity training.
“We have sent all our officers to seek training,” Horton said. “We have trained all our officers since then. We will periodically do that training over, and all new officers that come in will receive that training.”
But Horton says his department saw a few red flags suggesting some of the data Baumgartner analyzed may not have been compiled correctly. The department has hired North Carolina Central University professor Deborah Weisel to help review the department’s data and the Baumgartner report for errors.
“If we got a problem, we got a problem,” Horton said. “Whether it’s your data or Dr. Weisel’s data. And we’ll do what we can to fix it. That’s the bottom line. If there is an issue, which you say there is. We just want to make sure.”
Baumgartner, who was at the forum, says even if there are minor errors, he believes the overall conclusion of the report is accurate and also consistent with trends across the state and the nation.
“I understand that it makes anyone in the position of authority uncomfortable to have these numbers put in front of them because they seem to suggest a responsibility and a problem,” Baumgartner said. “But what I would just ask and plead for on behalf of everybody is, please don’t feel defensive about it. Carrboro is not the only agency with racial disparities in traffic stops and people who get searched. It’s a nation-wide issue.”
Community members attending the forum had many ideas for improving the fairness of policing in Carrboro. The creation of a civilian-led advisory board to oversee the department was one idea that got a lot of discussion—and a lot of push-back from police officers, like officer David Deshaies.
“It quite frankly terrifies that someone taking a 40-hour class is going to make decisions sitting in an air-conditioned room on whether I keep my job or not,” Deshaies said. “They’ve never been there, they’ve never even done a ride-a-long, ridden for one shift, even a few hours of one shift, to see what happens and what it looks like from the seat of that car.”
Town Alderman Sammy Slade signaled interest in discussing the idea at future town meetings.
“I think there’s a lot of rich exploration and a good conversation that could come about from engaging in that kind of discussion,” he said.
Chief Horton says his department will take time to consider the recommendations made in the forum, but that many suggestions require staffing and resources the department doesn’t have.