“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.


How Police Handle A Crisis

Earlier this week, police shut down streets in downtown Carrboro for 18 hours after a man climbed to the roof of the Hampton Inn and threatened to jump.

The situation began around 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday and lasted until 8:30 Wednesday morning, when the man was safely removed from the roof. It took a coordinated effort from many local agencies – not just Carrboro police, but also Carrboro fire officials, Carrboro public works officials, Orange County EMS, and the police departments of Cary and Chapel Hill.

What was the Chapel Hill PD’s role in the operation?

“We became involved almost immediately from a traffic standpoint – it was necessary to block off both Rosemary Street and Franklin Street, and our officers assisted in that,” says Chapel Hill Police Sgt. Bryan Walker. “Our negotiators were also involved fairly early on…

“It was early in the incident that it was clear that it was going to become something that Carrboro could use assistance on, and when they requested us, we went.”

Negotiators from Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Cary Police were all on the scene throughout the situation, speaking with the individual on the roof. Sgt. Walker says the Chapel Hill police department has at least five trained negotiators on staff, for instances like this.

“They come from different divisions within the department,” says Walker. “Some of our civilian crisis counselors are trained negotiators, and then we also have police officers that are trained as well.”

Rarely do we hear about how police officers handle negotiation and crisis management – but Sgt. Walker says it’s a vital part of the role of police, in Chapel Hill-Carrboro and everywhere.

“People typically don’t call 911 because they’re having a good day,” he says. “We see people in some of the worst situations of their entire lives, and it’s important that our officers are well-trained to recognize those situations and deal with them appropriately…

“We are very serious about training our officers to respond to these types of things.”

Carrboro police have not released the identity of the individual in this week’s incident, except to say that he was a man believed to be in his early 20s. He was taken to UNC Hospitals for evaluation.


Shooting On Jones Ferry Thurs Night; No Injuries

Carrboro police are seeking your help as they investigate a shooting incident that took place in the parking lot of 601 Jones Ferry Road at around 7:30 Thursday evening.

“We do not believe there are any injuries from the shooting,” says Captain Chris Atack of the Carrboro PD, “but evidence recovered from the scene corroborates the reports of witnesses that there were shots in the area.”

Police have interviewed several witnesses, but Atack says given the time of day it took place, it’s likely there were others who saw or heard things as well.

“We’re just asking anybody who saw anything, heard anything, or knows anything about this incident to give us or Crime Stoppers a call,” he says.

If you have information, call the Carrboro Police Department at 919-918-7397, or Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515.


Carrboro Police Safely Remove Distraught Man From Roof

After nearly 18 hours, Carrboro police were able to remove a man to safety who’d been threatening to jump from the roof of the Hampton Inn.

The situation began around 3:00 Tuesday afternoon, when Carrboro police responded to a report of a “suspicious person” at 300 East Main Street. When they arrived, they found the man on the roof.

Police blocked off East Main Street, West Rosemary Street, and West Franklin Street for the rest of the day, throughout the night, and into the morning until the situation was resolved. Chapel Hill Police, Cary Police, Carrboro Fire, Carrboro Public Works, and Orange County EMS officials all assisted in the operation. Three negotiators from Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Cary Police spoke with the man throughout the 18-hour period.

The man has still not been identified. A WCHL listener on Twitter says his wife and her coworkers witnessed police “grabbing” the man to get him to safety. Carrboro police reported the situation had ended at about 8:30 Wednesday morning.

Traffic on East Main, West Rosemary, and West Franklin Streets have returned to normal.

UPDATE: WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton.


Update: Man Still On Hampton Inn Roof

Police are continuing to block off the area around 300 East Main Street in downtown Carrboro this morning, as negotiators are still talking with a man who’s threatening to jump from the roof of the Hampton Inn.

This situation has been ongoing since 3:00 yesterday afternoon.

“We initially came out here as a response to a suspicious person call on the roof of the Hampton Inn,” says Carrboro police captain Chris Atack. “Officers, once they arrived on the scene, made contact with an individual on the roof (and) became concerned for his safety.”

Listen to more comments from Atack, as well as WCHL’s Matt Oakes and Art Chansky, who were on the scene Tuesday.

Working with Chapel Hill Police, Orange County EMS and the Carrboro Fire Department, officers closed East Main Street, West Franklin Street, and West Rosemary Street from Roberson Street in Carrboro to Merritt Mill Road in Chapel Hill. Those streets remain closed even now, and traffic on all three streets is being diverted.

Police are not releasing details yet about the man’s identity or the exact nature of the standoff, but Atack says there’s no danger to the public.

“We do actually have trained negotiators involved,” he says. “We have at least three negotiators involved, from the Carrboro and Chapel Hill negotiations unit.”

Those negotiators, he says, have been in contact with the individual since around 3:30 Tuesday afternoon.

The situation has been ongoing for more than 12 hours now, and police still can’t say how much longer it will be – but they say they’ll stay out as long as it takes.

“We’re committed to bringing this to the best resolution we can think of,” Atack says.

Stay tuned to WCHL for updates throughout the morning. For traffic purposes, avoid downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro if possible; traffic has been heavily backed up since yesterday afternoon.


Would-Be Jumper On Hampton Inn Roof

Downtown traffic was shut down Tuesday afternoon after a man climbed to the roof of the Hampton Inn in Carrboro and threatened to jump.

Carrboro police arrived on scene around 3:00 p.m., initially in response to a report of a “suspicious person” – only to find the man on the roof. Police closed East Main, West Franklin, and West Rosemary Streets between Roberson and Merritt Mill in order to address the situation; as of 7:25 p.m., the situation was still ongoing. Chapel Hill police officers were on the scene as well, along with the Carrboro Fire Department and Orange County EMS officials.


Carrboro Police Captain Chris Atack says there’s no danger to the public, but they’re still concerned the man could be a danger to himself.

“We do actually have trained negotiators involved – at least three negotiators involved from the Carrboro and the Chapel Hill negotiations unit,” says Atack. “We’re committed to bringing this to the best resolution we can think of.”

Negotiators were on the scene by 3:30. By 5:00, WCHL’s Matt Oakes reported the man had stepped away from the ledge. The situation calmed somewhat afterward, but as of 7:30 there are still officers on the roof along with the individual, and the roads are still closed.


Listen to the full comments from Carrboro Police Captain Chris Atack.


WCHL’s Matt Oakes was on the scene between 3:30 and 5:00.


WCHL’s Art Chansky was on the scene between 5:30 and 7:00.


Another “ALERT” Operation Nets 27 Alcohol/Drug Arrests

Chapel Hill Police continued to push its message of zero tolerance over the weekend, handing out 27 citations for drug- and alcohol-related incidents.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro’s joint ALERT (Alcohol Law Enforcement Response Team) program uses officers from Chapel Hill along with Carrboro Police, and UNC’s Department of Public Safety.

Twenty-five citations were given between Saturday and Sunday for charges of open containers in public, underage possession, underage consumption, and public urination. The arrests were made throughout the greater Downtown Chapel Hill area from Longview Street on the north side to McCauley Street on the south side.

Friday: Eleven UNC Students Cited For Alcohol Violations

In the same time frame, two people were cited with misdemeanor drug possession charges as well.

Last week, Chapel Hill Police Public Information Lieutenant Josh Mecimore said the ALERT team is out early in the semester to make sure the expectations are clear. He said it’s about keeping students and other community members as safe as possible.

And remember, the Chapel Hill Police Department doesn’t announce when operations like ALERT or DUI traffic stops will take place, but it is often active on Twitter letting people know where regular speed traps will take place. You can follow it: @ChapelHillPD, and be sure to follow @WCHLChapelboro. We’ll share CHPD’s tweets with you as well.


Carrboro Police Open P2C Website

The Carrboro Police Department is offering a new way for citizens to access the latest information on crime, accidents, and other police reports.

Captain with the Carrboro Police Department, Chris Atack, describes what the P2C website is and how it can be accessed by citizens.

“P2C, or Police to Citizen, is a web access application that allows folks to search records with the Carrboro Police Department,” says Cpt. Atack. “They can do it anywhere they can get the Internet.”

Cpt. Atack says that there is a great amount of information that residents of Carrboro can now be privy to, and what that means

“They can research accident reports if they were involved in an accident,” says Cpt. Atack. “They can also search incidents and arrests. They can do it geographically, they can do it by name they can do it by date. Just a lot of information is available to folks that they can now research on their own time in the privacy of their own house. They don’t have to worry about calling up the Police Department. It’s just part of getting the information out there to the public that we serve.”

Cpt. Atack says that this is another part of the Carrboro Police Department’s efforts to move forward with advancing technologies and ease of accessibility for those who need the information immediately.

“Last year, we jumped into the social media circuits, both with Facebook and Twitter,” says Cpt. Atack. “This is kind of that continuing effort on our part to bring in some more modern informational access systems to move us forward. This P2C is just one of those efforts.”

To check out the new Carrboro Police P2C site, click here.


Shannon Death Investigation Ceased

The death of the UNC freshman and pledge of the Chi Phi fraternity, David Shannon, is no longer being investigated by the Carrboro police department, according to The Daily Tar Heel.

Two years have passed since Shannon’s untimely death in October of 2012, after falling forty feet at the Carrboro Ready Mixed Concrete Plant. Due to lack of any solid leads or information, Carrboro police have ceased pursuing the incident any further. Speaking for the Carrboro police, Captain Chris Atack stated that the investigation simply must stop unless any further evidence is uncovered and no charges will be pressed as they have “no information to go on.”

At the time of his autopsy, it was discovered that upon his death, Shannon possessed a .22 blood alcohol concentration level. Suspecting foul play, Carrboro police began to seek answers with Shannon’s fraternity, but were given no leads and could not gather enough information to make a case.

There still exist allegations of hazing surrounding the Chi Phi fraternity for an incident separate from Shannon. The Standards Review Board of UNC can form its own investigation by analyzing these past accusations themselves.

However, Cpt. Atack confirms that the Carrboro police are truly “stuck” until new information or leads are uncovered.