Public Forum Monday Will Address Race And Policing

Monday night, you are invited to a town hall-style discussion about racial disparities in policing, 7-9 pm in Chapel Hill Town Hall.

On hand will be Chapel Hill police chief Chris Blue, Carrboro police chief Walter Horton, and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood, as well as elected officials and other community leaders. Joel Brown of WTVD will moderate.

This has been one of the most talked-about issues of the year, both nationwide and locally. Just this month, Chapel Hill announced a series of new measures to address the issue – including wider usage of body cameras, periodic reviews of traffic stop data, racial equity training for officers, and consent forms for vehicle searches.

Monday’s forum is co-sponsored by Chapel Hill’s Justice in Action Committee and the District 15B Racial Justice Task Force; it’s one of many that have been devoted to the topic in the last two years.

If you can’t make it to the meeting in person, you will be able to stream it online: click this link for the streaming page.

The full list of announced panelists is below:

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue
Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton
Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood
Carrboro Alderman Michelle Johnson
Chapel Hill Attorney Tye Hunter
Community member Terrence Foushee
Director of Empowerment Inc. Delores Bailey
Executive Director of the Scholars Latino Initiative Ricky Hurtado
UNC Law Student Quisha Mallette

Race And Policing: Are We Addressing The Issue The Right Way?

How can Chapel Hill prevent itself from becoming the next Tulsa, the next Charlotte, the next Ferguson? Are we taking the right steps now – and what more do we need to do?

Protests are still ongoing, across the state and beyond, after last week’s shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer in Charlotte.

The details surrounding the incident are still in question. But Scott’s death (one in a series of similar incidents nationwide) has nevertheless helped spark a conversation about race in America, racial disparities in policing, and the relationship between police and residents, particularly African-American residents.

What are the facts? Numerous studies have confirmed that police departments across the country do, in fact, have a tendency to treat African-Americans differently. (One especially disturbing study out of UC-Davis found that black Americans are 3.49 times more likely than white Americans to be shot by police while unarmed.)

This is not because police officers are somehow uniquely racist. In fact one study by the University of Chicago has found that police officers are less likely to discriminate than members of the general population.

But the disparities persist – and not for the reasons you might think. There’s little correlation with crime rates, for one; police shootings are just as likely to occur in lower-crime cities as higher-crime cities. African-Americans are more likely than whites to have their vehicles searched after being pulled over – but police actually find contraband at a higher rate when searching vehicles driven by whites. (That disparity was particularly egregious in Ferguson, Missouri – where “black motorists were more than twice as likely to be searched as whites following a traffic stop, but were 26% less likely to be found in the possession of contraband,” according to a forthcoming report co-written by UNC professor Frank Baumgartner.) And it’s not just white officers who are discriminating: when it comes to racial disparities in policing, statistically speaking it doesn’t matter much whether the officer is white or black. (It was an African-American police officer who shot Keith Scott in Charlotte.)

Here’s a list of eighteen related studies on racial disparities in policing (including four cited above).

What about locally? At UNC, Frank Baumgartner has studied traffic stop data for police departments across North Carolina – and he’s found racial disparities in almost all of them. Police are significantly more likely to search the vehicles of African-Americans and Latinos after stopping them (particularly young men), even though they’re no more likely to find anything illegal. Orange County police departments are not immune: researchers have also found disparities in Chapel Hill and Carrboro as well as the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Charles Blackwood, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, and Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton have all expressed concerns about those numbers; they’ve each publicly committed to ongoing conversations with the community and active efforts to study possible reforms.

What’s the best way to make progress on this issue? Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump addressed the question at their first presidential debate on Monday. Trump called for an expansion of “stop and frisk” policies, which give police more leeway to search people on the street – arguing that the policy led to a significant drop in New York City’s crime rate. (New York’s crime rate did drop during the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk years – but the crime rate was also dropping nationwide, and there’s still disagreement over how much of a role “stop and frisk” played in New York. Former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Trump supporter, says “stop and frisk” made a difference; current mayor Bill de Blasio, a Clinton supporter, says other factors were more important.) Regardless of the impact on the crime rate, though, the “stop and frisk” policy did exacerbate tensions between the NYPD and the city’s black community – because there was a large racial disparity in how the policy was applied. Black New Yorkers were far more likely than white New Yorkers to be subjected to a frisk – so much so that a district court judge struck down the policy as unconstitutional. (The case never went beyond district court, because the city did not appeal.)

Hillary Clinton, on Monday, suggested a different approach. Rather than “stop and frisk,” she said, local law enforcement agencies should focus their efforts on community policing. The “community policing” model begins with a key insight: police officers and citizens often see each other as adversaries because they only encounter each other in moments of conflict, when circumstances are tense and there’s an immediate danger of violence. To build trust and stronger relationships, the community-policing approach encourages officers to engage with residents on a regular basis, in calmer and friendlier circumstances – speaking in classrooms, organizing charity events, getting to know the residents of a neighborhood, and so on. Advocates say that approach will make communities safer: crime rates are lower in close-knit neighborhoods, and people are less likely to break the law when they view “the law” as a friend rather than an adversary. (There’s some data to support the theory: for instance, the national crime rate dropped dramatically during the 1990s, the same time “community policing” became popular – though of course other factors may have played a larger role there.) But aside from the effect on crime rates, community-policing advocates also say the approach will ease tensions between police and African-Americans – and eventually begin to mitigate disparities as well.

Orange County’s local police departments have largely embraced the community-policing model, an approach that local African-American leaders applaud – even though they maintain (and local police chiefs agree) that there remain statistical disparities that still need to be addressed. Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP president Rev. Robert Campbell says Orange County’s approach – going all in on community policing while actively fostering a dialogue about race – could be (and should be) a model for other communities, like Charlotte and Tulsa and Ferguson.

That’s not to say ‘it can’t happen here’ – after all, it can happen anywhere – but Rev. Campbell says the local community is tackling the issue the right way.

Rev. Robert Campbell spoke with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

Carrboro Police Searching for Missing Teen

Carrboro Police are searching for a missing teenager.

Officials are trying to locate 17-year-old Cristina Louise Harrison, who was last seen at Talullas on West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill Sunday night. She was last seen wearing green Vans tennis shoes, jean shorts, a black t-shirt with pink writing on the front and an LA Kings baseball cap, according to police.

Police say Harrison is 4′ 9″ tall and estimated to weigh 115 pounds.

There is no further information available at this time.

Carrboro Police are asking anyone that has seen her or has other information to call 911.

Carrboro Police Seek Info In Armed Robberies

Carrboro police are still investigating a pair of armed robberies at two apartment complexes last week.

One Carrboro resident was robbed at gunpoint, and another was threatened with a gun in separate incidents on the evening of March 30th.

Now, Captain Chris Atack says Carrboro police are looking for help from the public.

“This certainly rises to a level that is concerning to all,” says Atack. “We are asking anybody who has any information, any tips, any ideas on what parties might be responsible for these activities to please call us or call Crimestoppers.”

According to police reports, an armed suspect forced his way into an apartment at Collins Crossing just after 10:00 p.m.

The suspect, who covered his face and carried a rifle, allegedly shoved the resident of the apartment. Although the victim suffered minor injuries, nothing was reported stolen.

Moments later, at 10:47 pm, a woman reported she was robbed at gunpoint by a man with a rifle in the parking lot of Carolina Apartments, directly behind Collins Crossing.

The gunman reportedly took her wallet, car key, driver’s license and credit card.

Atack says the suspect or suspects didn’t steal much of value, but the presence of a firearm is still cause for concern.

“Especially when you have the potential for violent crime arising from someone with a firearm using it to threaten people, there’s always a greater potential for harm,” says Atack.

The suspect in both robberies is described as a 20-year-old black man. Atack says it’s not yet clear if the two incidents are related.

“With the proximity and the closeness in time and distance, obviously you’d initially believe there’s some sort of connection,” says Atack. “That’s something that we’re looking at, trying to get as much information as we can from witnesses. That is something we are dutifully pursuing.”

If you have any information, call Carrboro Police at 919-918-7397. You can leave an anonymous tip either online or over the phone at Crimestoppers: 919-942-7517.

Carrboro Aldermen Examine Guidelines for Police Body Cameras

Carrboro police officers may soon be required to wear cameras on their bodies.

Last year’s incidents in Ferguson and New York invigorated conversations across the nation about police misconduct and racial discrimination. Earlier this month the United States Department of Justice issued a damning report on Ferguson police, finding explicit racial bias among officers against African Americans (including racist emails sent by officers).

At Tuesday’s Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting, Member Michelle Johnson said body cameras will not end police racial profiling. But some think body cameras could reduce police misconduct by recording interactions between officers and the public.

Carrboro officials have been discussing police body cameras for the last half year. Carrboro’s draft policy sets guidelines for use of cameras and management of the video taken.

Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, says body cameras could be a win-win for police and for the public.

“They’ve cut down on public complaints against law enforcement,” said Brook on the impact body cameras have had in other places. “They have been a means of curbing and addressing officer misconduct on those occasions when it does occur.”

But, he said, cameras would work well only if Carrboro has appropriate policies to balance transparency, accountability and privacy.

Brook suggested changes to the current draft policy. He said the policy should require officers to inform people when they’re being recorded.

He also said the policy should prohibit police from using cameras to secretly record “first-amendment activities” that don’t involve a direct interaction with the public.

“I would like for us to be very explicit about the goal of these cameras,” said Alderman Sammy Slade. “They are for transparency and accountability and not surveillance.”

Aldermen and members of the public raised several questions about using the cameras, including whether Carrboro would have to give the recordings to state government authorities and whether school resource officers would wear the cameras.

You can read the draft policy here. Another draft will come by the end of June. Send comments to the board at and copy the town clerk at

Chapel Hill Police To Carry Naloxone Kits

Chapel Hill Police will soon begin carrying the anti-overdose drug Naloxone.

“Most of our officers have completed training and we’re just in the process of getting the kits and putting them out for our patrol officers,” says Lieutenant Josh Mecimore.

Naloxone is an opioid-blocking nasal spray that can save the life of an overdose victim by temporarily reversing the effects of opiates, giving emergency responders a window of opportunity to get patients to the hospital for treatment.

Carrboro Police have carried the kits since October, and in that time, officers have used it twice to revive overdose victims.

You can read more on those incidents here.

Across North Carolina, there has been a more than 300 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths since 1999, according to the state Center for Health Statistics.

Last year, 86 people in Orange County were hospitalized due to overdose.

Carrboro Police Captain Chris Atack says his department has seen that prescription pain killers are a growing local problem.

“We have known for years that there has been a prescription drug abuse problem” says Atack. “We have been involved with other agencies, Chapel Hill specifically, for drug take-back activities, so there’s been an awareness on the law enforecment side that this is a real issue.”

While the total number of opiate overdose deaths in Orange County is small, Health Department Program Manager Meredith Stewart says it is on the rise.

An average of 3.5 out of six poisoning deaths was attributable to prescription opiates a decade ago. Now, that average has risen to seven out of ten poisoning deaths for the past three years.

Fundamentally, Stewart says any number of preventable deaths is too much.

“There are still people in Orange County dying and, really, one person is too many because we do have effective methods like naloxone to use when an overdose is actually happening,” says Stewart.

The Health Department also offers naloxone kits to Orange County residents so friends and family members of those with a history of opiate abuse can have the rescue drug on hand.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors In Winter Storm

Winter Storm Remus swept through our area on Wednesday night, dropping about eight inches of snow, and the Triangle is still in the process of digging out from under it – but while the reports of icy roads and widespread power outages have been disheartening, there have been just as many stories of neighbors helping neighbors in times of need.

The photo above is from the Carrboro Police Department, recognizing staff at Arby’s in Carrboro Plaza. When the power went out at Carolina Spring Senior Apartments just behind Carrboro Plaza, the staff at Arby’s sprang into action – providing 120 sandwiches for the residents who were struggling without power.

“CPD would like to recognize and thank Arbys at Carrboro Plaza for providing 120 sandwiches for the residents at Carolina Spring who have been without power (Thursday),” said the department on Facebook, “and thanks to the Carrboro Fire Department and Orange County Emergency Services for their invaluable assistance.”

Got more stories of neighbors helping neighbors? Share them below!

Carrboro Police Deploy Anti-Overdose Drug A Second Time

Carrboro Police have once again used an opioid-blocking nasal spray to save the life of an overdose victim, but questions remain about the drug involved.

Captain Chris Atack says officers responded to a report of a triple overdose on Pathway Drive late Thursday afternoon.

“One of our officers administered Naloxone to one of the three individuals,” says Atack. “The person that we administered to regained consciousness as they were transported to the ambulance to be taken to UNC for further treatment.”

This is only the second time police have used the rescue drug since officers began carrying it in October of last year.

Carrboro Town Manager David Andrews told the Board of Aldermen the drug in question was the prescription painkiller Fentanyl.

“It’s an opiate and it is about 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 15 to 20 more potent than heroin,” said Andrews.

Atack says police are still investigating the incident.

“We are investigating further because there is some question of what exactly was utilized,” says Atack. “Is there an on-going threat to the community? Is this something that’s going to be widespread? Is this an isolated incident? We have to go down that path from a preventative standpoint just to make sure if this is a new drug and we’re getting the beginning of a wave or if it’s a onetime event. We want to figure that one out.”

More broadly, Atack says opioid abuse is a growing problem.

“There’s been an awareness on law enforcement’s side that this is a real issue. What we’re finding now is the prescription pills have been cracked down on and are getting a lot more difficult to get,” says Atack. “People are actually moving from pills to other substances such as heroin, which would not be a traditional movement that you would think about, but we’re finding people are moving in that direction. We’ve got a community-wide issue of addiction and abuse and unintentional overdoses as well.”

With that in mind, Atack says anyone who suspects a friend or family member has overdosed should call 911 immediately. He says, first and foremost, officers are looking to save lives.

“Of course, our hope would be that our interactions would present the opportunity for somebody to get that help, or make the decision to change some of the things they’re doing,” says Atack. “That ultimately is the good we see coming from this, if we’re able to be part of pulling somebody back from the edge and helping them readjust and get back to rights, that’s why we’re here.”

In January, Carrboro police became the first in the state to deploy the lifesaving drug when an officer responded to an overdose on Old Fayetteville Road.

“We Have Work To Do”: NAACP Hosts Police Chiefs, Sheriff

In the wake of the events of Ferguson, Missouri, a national debate has erupted over policing in local communities: are racial minorities unfairly targeted, and if so, what should police departments be doing to address that issue?

On Saturday, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP welcomed Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton, and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood for a two-hour forum on policing here in Orange County, with topics ranging from the role of police in schools to the use of deadly force.

Listen to Aaron Keck’s full story on WCHL.


Listen to Saturday’s forum in its entirety (approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes long). Additional highlights from the forum can be found below.


“The events that we’ve experienced in other parts of the country have made it clear that we have work to do in our own community,” said Diane Robertson, who moderated Saturday’s forum at the Rogers Road Community Center. About 50 people packed the room, including several elected officials.

At issue was the question of “implicit bias” in policing: do police officers unfairly target racial minorities, even without intending to? Blue, Horton and Blackwood all reiterated that their officers don’t intentionally discriminate.

“I think if you show raw data to the officers – which we have – they’ll say, ‘man, I’m surprised by those numbers, it doesn’t feel like it would be skewed,'” Chief Blue said. “I know for folks out there in the community it feels very obvious that it’s skewed, but for those officers, I don’t think there’s intentional effort to skew the data one way or the other.”

Chief Horton agreed. “When I was on patrol, I didn’t look at the race of the person I was stopping, I was looking at the car – if a tag was out, I’d stop the car for a violation – and I’m pretty sure that’s how it is now,” he said.

“We want to do the right thing,” Sheriff Blackwood added. “I don’t think anybody puts the uniform on with an evil heart.”

Diane Robertson questions the panelists. From L-R: Walter Horton, Chris Blue, Charles Blackwood.

Diane Robertson questions the panelists. From L-R: Walter Horton, Chris Blue, Charles Blackwood.

But even if there’s no intent to discriminate, there are numbers suggesting that minorities in Orange County do get singled out. About 20 percent of the traffic stops in Orange County involve black drivers, even though only 10 percent of the population is black – and when they’re pulled over, black and Latino drivers are also 2-3 times more likely to have their vehicles searched than white drivers are in the same circumstances.

Those numbers indicate a serious issue in our community – even if the cause, or the solution, isn’t as obvious.

Stephanie Perry (in attendance) discusses implicit bias with Sheriff Blackwood, arguing that officers will “congregate” in low-income or majority-black neighborhoods.


Sheriff Blackwood responds to Perry (in the most heated moment of the forum): of vehicles searched in Orange County last year, he says, 23 were driven by black drivers and 20 were driven by white drivers.


Diane Robertson replies to Blackwood: “(That) might seem almost 50/50, but that’s not the population breakdown.”


“We’re scratching our head about some of the same data,” Chief Blue said. “If I could figure out exactly why those disparities are happening, I would take action immediately, but I’m not sure either.”

Chief Blue says the CHPD will bring in trainers this year to help officers recognize and deal with implicit bias.


But all three police chiefs said they were committed to addressing the issue and improving the quality of policing in Orange County – in a variety of different ways. Many of those efforts are already ongoing: Sheriff Blackwood said his department is beginning to reward officers who speak a second language; Chief Blue said the Chapel Hill PD documents and reviews every single use of force by an officer; and Chief Horton spoke of community policing and similar efforts to improve communication between officers and citizens.

Chief Horton discusses the importance of communication.


And all three emphasized the importance of CIT, or Crisis Intervention Training, as an effective tool for training officers to de-escalate tense situations.

Chief Blue discusses the CHPD’s goal with respect to the CIT program.


Sheriff Blackwood describes a recent incident where an officer’s CIT training helped resolve a dangerous situation.


In addition to programs already in effect, Chiefs Blue and Horton both said they were hoping to roll out a body camera program in the next fiscal year.

Chief Blue discusses the benefits (and possible challenges) of body cameras.


And all of those efforts have had some positive effects. For one, Chief Blue says there’s been a steady decrease in the number of times his officers have had to use force.

“Those continue to trend down,” he said Saturday. “We investigate every single complaint we receive, and we require – even if we don’t get a complaint – any time an officer uses force, we document every single (instance). And those numbers are trending down.”

But while that statistic is promising, the larger issue persists. Sheriff Blackwood said it’s important for all of us to highlight our similarities rather than our differences: “I was always taught that when you take our skin off, we’re the same color; there is no difference, we’re human beings first.”

Sheriff Blackwood discusses the process of training for when to use and when not to use deadly force – a question that, for him, hits very close to home.


But moderator Robertson responded that there’s still a gap between that ideal and everyday reality. “We may be all the same on the inside, but we’re not all the same on the outside,” she said, “and I think the concern is that that’s having an effect on how people are being treated.”

And Chief Blue added that that gap generates mistrust, where officers and citizens can begin to suspect each other even when no one is doing anything wrong.

Chief Blue describes a “powerful phone call” he received recently from a resident.


The issues raised at Saturday’s forum will likely take years to address, if not longer. Chief Blue said his department is doing a great deal to tackle the problem – but it’s an ongoing project.

“This implicit bias stuff is tough,” he said. “Over two years ago we began a process of quarterly analysis of every single traffic stop by an officer, (requiring) supervisors to certify to me that they’ve had a conversation about their data…and that’s enabled us to have some important conversations, and I believe it’s laid the foundation for some of this implicit-bias training that we’re going to do…

“However, it’s very hard to know what’s in someone’s heart. We all bring bias into every encounter…so being able to talk about it together is, in my mind, the only way to bring it to a level of consciousness where you can feel bias creeping in and take some action in response.”

And insofar as we in Orange County are not immune from bias – and insofar as we are all human, as Sheriff Blackwood observed – our community is also not immune from the issues that sparked such a national outcry last year.

“This community really isn’t that far from Ferguson,” said Robertson. “That is, I think, why people are here today.”

Biker? Walker? Stay Visible At “Friday Night Lights”

Daylight Savings Time is over, which means it’s getting dark much earlier in the evening – so if you’re walking or riding your bike in the area, remember to make sure other drivers can see you.

The Carrboro Bicycle Coalition is doing its part to help out. This Friday at Carrboro Town Commons, they’re hosting an event called “Friday Night Lights!”

“All of a sudden we went (off) Daylight Savings Time, and it’s really dark in the evening already – but we’re still having lots of folks out biking and walking,” says Molly DeMarco, one of the event organizers. “So this event is really to help people be safe out there.”

If you’re a regular biker or pedestrian, head to Carrboro Town Commons this Friday at 6:00 pm. Bring your bikes and get a free set of lights; organizers will also be giving away reflective material for pedestrians. At 6:45 there will be a walk-and-ride with members of the Board of Aldermen, then at 7:30 everyone will gather at Looking Glass Café for a free screening of “The Triplets of Belleville.”

And along the way, there will be prizes awarded to the best-lit bike, the most visible cyclist , and the most visible pedestrian. WCHL’s Elizabeth Friend will be one of the celebrity judges, along with Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils and Carrboro police officer Heather Barrett.

Ginger Guidry of the Carrboro Bicycle Coalition says being visible is a major part of being safe.

“It’s really helpful to be aware of your visibility,” she says. “People don’t realize sometimes how hard it is to see a cyclist without lights, or a pedestrian without any reflective material.”

But both Guidry and DeMarco also remind drivers to stay alert and watch for bikers and pedestrians – especially now that it’s dark so early in the evening.

Guidry and DeMarco stopped by WCHL this week and talked about the event with Aaron Keck.


Friday’s event is free for all. It gets under way at 6 pm on Carrboro Town Commons.