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

Two Armed Robberies At Rams Plaza This Week

Chapel Hill Police are investigating a pair of armed robberies that took place at Rams Plaza this week.

The first one happened on Monday, October 17, at 7:05 pm at the Better Sleep Store. Two suspects entered the business demanding money; one of them had a handgun and the other had a pair of brass knuckles. They assaulted one employee and stole nearly $1000 in cash, fleeing the scene in a small, dark-colored car. One suspect is described as a tall, skinny white male in a black shirt; the other is a heavy-set black male in a blue sweatshirt.

Then on Thursday, October 20, the Pizza Hut at Rams Plaza was robbed shortly before 10 pm. There were two robbers this time as well, both wearing masks, at least one of them brandishing a handgun; they stole more than 500 dollars.

Suspect descriptions do not match, so police are likely seeking two different pairs of robbers. The suspects in the Better Sleep Store robbery are described as a heavy-set black male and a tall, skinny white male, with a small dark-colored car; the suspects in the Pizza Hut robbery are both described as skinny black males, about 5’10” to 6′ tall, possibly driving a white Ford F-150.

If you have any information, please call Chapel Hill Police at 919-968-2760 or Crime Stoppers at 919-942-7515. Calls to Crime Stoppers are confidential and anonymous, and you may be eligible for a cash reward up to $2,000 for information that leads to an arrest.

You can also leave tips for Crime Stoppers online at this link.

Accident Leaves Pedestrian In Critical Condition: CHPD

Chapel Hill police say a pedestrian is in critical condition after being hit by a truck on Thursday morning.

The full statement from Chapel Hill Police is below:

This morning, at approximately 6:02 AM, the Chapel Hill Police Department responded to a report of a traffic collision involving a box truck striking a pedestrian. The crash occurred on Old Durham Road north of East Lakeview Drive. The investigation by the Chapel Hill Police is on-going.

The pedestrian, whose name is being withheld, was transported to UNC Hospital Emergency Room in critical condition from injuries related to the crash.

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.

Head-On Collision Leaves One Dead

Thursday night, a head-on collision on Raleigh Road near campus left one driver dead.

Chapel Hill Police say the accident took place around 9:39 pm near the intersection of Raleigh Road and Greenwood Road. One vehicle was apparently traveling west in the eastbound lane and ran into another.

One of the drivers was pronounced dead at UNC Hospitals; the other driver was treated for minor injuries at the scene and released.

Officials have not yet released the names of the individuals involved. The police investigation is ongoing; WCHL will provide additional information as we receive it.

UNC Football Hosts Chapel Hill Police for the Day

Practicing inside Kenan Stadium on Monday for the first time during this year’s training camp, the UNC football team welcomed a group of close to 70 Chapel Hill police officers and their families to watch the proceedings.

Afterwards, the team sat down with their guests for lunch in the Blue Zone–in an effort to create discussion around one of today’s most pressing social issues.

Although there were a small handful of Tar Heels who ran into minor legal issues last fall—and many other falls before that—this gathering was centered on the much more serious issues that have plagued the entire country over the past couple years.

The rise of the “Black Lives Matter” movement–and the increase in the amount of videos showing officers shooting and killing unarmed citizens–has nearly driven the tension between civilians and police to a breaking point.

Because of that, UNC head coach Larry Fedora wishes this wasn’t the first time he came up with the idea to help open a dialogue with his players.

“I really kicked myself in the butt for not being more proactive and doing something like this years ago,” Fedora said. “I mean, it just makes sense.”

When talking with his team about the issue, Fedora has mainly focused on the fact that police officers are human beings capable of making mistakes just like anyone else.

It’s a message that should especially resonate with these high-level athletes. After all, they often run into a similar issue where media and fans forget that they’re just regular people because of what their job is.

“I think it’s just something very, very small that we can do to build that relationship—and to continue to make sure our guys understand what they’re all about,” Fedora said. “And I want them to understand who we are.”

Senior cornerback Des Lawrence–a team leader who was once suspended for a game in 2014 for participating in a hazing incident–said he sees the opportunity to meet and speak with the officers as a chance to make sure both viewpoints can be heard.

“They get to show people that they’re not the bad guys,” Lawrence said. “Not all officers are bad. And that’s one thing I’ve understood.

“While there’s a crisis going on, you can’t blame every officer,” he continued. “Just like you can’t blame every person who doesn’t listen to the officer’s orders or who doesn’t want to because they feel wrongfully accused.

“So [this lunch] is a good medium where both sides can come together.”

Lawrence also spoke at length about how Fedora tells his team to treat police officers with respect should an incident occur off the field—whether something happens this year or 20 years down the road.

While the coach is obviously doing a great deed by giving cops the recognition they deserve, it was yet another example of how he’s attempting to build constructive relationships with his players that last far beyond the time that they’re in college.

“We’re about building these young men into full-grown men so they can be successful in whatever they do in life—after football,” Fedora said. “It’s after football that I’m most concerned with.

“These guys that are playing for us in the NFL right now—all I’m worried about is what happens to them after football’s over with.”

Traffic Data Shows Link Between Race and Police Searches

North Carolina was the first state in the country to require traffic stop records. Any time a car was pulled over, the officer filled out a report. Now with 13 years worth of data, the trends hold answers to questions about racial profiling in policing.

UNC political scientist Frank Baumgartner has been studying the data for years, and said there’s an undeniable link between people of color and car searches.

“The striking numbers are that if you’re a young Hispanic or a young African American male, in the situation that you get pulled over, you’re much more likely to be searched than anyone else in the population,” Baumgartner said.

Age and gender were also reflected in the data.

“A young white male is also more likely to be searched than a female or an older person,” Baumgartner.

Frank Baumgartner discussed his findings with Aaron Keck on WCHL.


Baumgartner is trying to answer the question why cars pulled over for minor offenses, like expired tabs or broken headlights, are more likely to be searched.

“It might be that the officer wants to search that car because they have a visual cue that they may be involved in drugs or something. So the officer first decides that he wants to search the car and then finds a way to pull that car over.”

But this type of policing walks the line of racial profiling – especially in certain areas of town. ‘Policing by place’ is a tactic that patrols high crime areas more aggressively – something that Baumgartner says also highlights racial inequities.

“If you live in a neighborhood that is not one of those crime hot-spots, that’s a relatively nice neighborhood, the policing is a lot more soft touch. And those neighborhood distinctions tend to be correlated with race. So there really is a different style of policing depending on who you are and where you live.”

If a white driver is pulled over, there is a two percent chance that their car will be searched, Baumgartner said, but a four percent chance for a person of color. From 2002 to 2015, over 20 million recorded police observations show that these racial profiling trends are not improving.

“Rather than being steady or decreasing, they’ve actually been steadily increasing so that by 2013 they were 150 percent more likely,” Baumgartner said.  “So it’s moving in the wrong direction.”

This trend also follows the ‘contraband hit rate’ which refers to the likelihood that a search leads to finding drugs, weapons or some other form of contraband. Even though racially profiled searches have increased, Baumgartner said the contraband hit rate has not.

“The contraband hit rate has not changed, so there’s an increased targeting over time of minority drivers.”

To try and prevent racially profiled searches without probable cause, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham and other cities have instituted a written consent form. Previously, when officers asked for permission to search cars, community members said they felt intimidated by the question. Baumgartner said a written consent form seeks to give people the choice to opt out of searches.

“If the officer does not have probable cause, he has to conduct what’s called a consent search, and that might be an area where there is a likelihood of bias. So one solution is to not only have the officer ask for your permission, but to have you sign a waiver that explicitly recognizes that you have the right to say no. And when that happened, the number of consent searches decline precipitously.”

Baumgartner said he worries these trends will alienate certain demographics of the community and weaken their trust in law enforcement

“I think we are alienating a lot of young men. And a lot of older men and members of minority communities are accustomed to the idea that they may have been pulled over for reasons that they cant really get their head around.”

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said that he’s using the data to improve his force’s policing methods. He says he supports the open data policy and hopes it will help the community understand their work.

“I think the overall message is that we’re doing our community’s work, so the more information that we can put out about what we are doing on your behalf, it is your information we are your employees, we want to continue to create more and more opportunities for that information to be out there,” Blue said.

Chief Blue also said he hopes to offer clarification about any concerning trends and hopes that by monitoring his team’s work, they can find ways to improve.

“It’s that old idea that you can expect what you inspect, coupled with some real reflection about what’s the thinking behind your decision.”

Chapel Hill Experiencing String of Second Story Break-Ins

Chapel Hill has been faced with a string of home break-ins recently, with the thieves entering on the second story, according to Chapel Hill Police Lieutenant Josh Mecimore.

“Folks are breaking in through second story windows, primarily through unlocked second story windows and it looks like they are using lawn furniture or patio furniture to get to a part of the roof that gives them access to second story windows,” said Mecimore.

Mecimore said most of the break-ins have occurred near the Sweeten Creek area by East Chapel Hill High School and have happened during the day, while residents were at work. The break-ins are also taking advantage of the alarm systems in people’s homes.

“Typically alarm systems, or a lot of alarm systems at least, don’t cover the second story and so once someone is in, it seems that as long as they don’t go downstairs they are not setting off the alarm,” said Mecimore.

The police department recommends locking all your doors and windows when you leave the house and before you go to bed and to also make your home looks occupied when you’re away by putting your lights and television on a timer.

Police also advise not keeping any spare keys outside of the house and to consider getting an alarm system if you do not already have one.

“The goal for each person should be to make their houses as undesirable to someone who might break-in as they can,” said Mecimore.

No arrests have been made in connection with the break-ins but Mecimore said police are still investigating.

Chapel Hill Police Prepare for Final Four Celebrations

Excitement is building around the state of North Carolina, and especially in Chapel Hill, as fans are awaiting the tip off of Syracuse and North Carolina in the Final Four in Houston on Saturday night.

While the game is going on in Texas, many revelers – from Chapel Hill and beyond – will set up a satellite watch party on Franklin Street to cheer on the Tar Heels.

That large crowd means a big job is in store for the Chapel Hill Police Department.

“When we talk about planning for a Final Four weekend, we equate it to working two Halloween-scale events in the course of 48 hours,” Chapel Hill Police chief Chris Blue says recalling the annual massive migration to Chapel Hill in late October.

Blue adds the department is fortunate to have a template in place for working these large events but concedes “the intensity level goes up when you’re doing two of them back-to-back.”

Blue says that police are taking precautions ahead of Saturday night’s matchup between the Tar Heels and the Orange, although a potential celebration of a national championship would likely draw a much larger crowd.

“We do work very hard to protect our neighborhoods immediately adjacent to downtown,” Blue says. “There’ll be parking monitors trying to keep those neighborhoods from having visitors taking up the resident parking.”

Blue adds that, while he expects plenty of revelers to come in from outside of Chapel Hill, this type of celebration is “an event that is most-easily attended by people who are already here in the community.”

Blue says that events where thousands of residents and visitors are going to be in one confined space “always makes us nervous” from a public safety standpoint, but he adds “they generally go so well and our attendees are so respectful and well-behaved, for lack of a better term.”

Blue said that a major concern for police and other emergency responders is bonfires being set on Franklin Street. Blue asked that those coming to celebrate refrain from starting those fires and cooperate with law enforcement for a smooth evening.

UNC Geography Professor Arrested: Marijuana

Chapel Hill Police have arrested a UNC geography professor for possession of marijuana with intent to sell and distribute.

Aaron Moody is the geography department’s Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies. He was arrested without incident around eight o’clock Friday night.

Moody faces five charges, including two felonies: possession with intent to sell and distribute and maintaining a vehicle for using, storing and selling controlled substances. According to the police report, officers seized about 26 grams of marijuana from his Honda Odyssey.

Moody’s first court appearance was scheduled for Tuesday, but it has now been continued until March 11. He’s also been charged with three misdemeanors: possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, and displaying a fictitious vehicle tag.

UNC officials could not comment on his employment status at this time.