Missing: Pumpkins, Inflatables Stolen in Chapel Hill

There have been multiple reports in the past 24 hours to the Chapel Hill Police Department that pumpkins, inflatables and other Halloween decor have been stolen from yards.

Several pumpkins and a 12-foot inflatable Jack-0′-Lantern were reported stolen from locations along North Estes Drive. The Boy Scout Troop on North Estes Drive also reported multiple pumpkins and two inflatables missing from the location, according to Chapel Hill Police Lieutenant Josh Mecimore.  Decorations, including several other pumpkins and an inflatable spider, were also reported stolen from homes on Christine Court.

According to a tweet sent to the CHPD, Halloween decor has also been stolen from at least one lawn in Carrboro.

CHPD says this is not uncommon around Halloween, and that last year there was similar vandalism and larceny. Police encourage residents to contact them if anything has been stolen and encourage residents to call 911 if they see someone stealing, or other suspicious activity.


Police, Community Members Hold Forum to Discuss Race and Policing

Race and policing are topics that have often been discussed together in the past five years regarding inconsistencies in arrests, searches and traffic stops.

Law enforcement in Orange County are already beginning a pilot program that police say is meant to push towards the end of racial profiling. But they also held a forum on “Policing, Race and Community” public to any who wanted to be there.

“This is something that’s been going on for a long time,” said Orange Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall in his remarks opening the forum. “It’s not anything new. Maybe it’s boiled to the surface a little more in the last couple of years, but it’s something that’s been around for a long time and these are issues we need to confront.”

Woodall said that if Orange County sets an example of police relations with the community, it could make it easier for the rest of the state, then country, to follow suit.

“This isn’t just about Chapel Hill and Carrboro,” he said. “This area, Chatham County, Siler City, Pittsboro, Hillsborough, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, if there’s anywhere in the state that can address these issues and show leadership, where better than here?”

But Carrboro Alderwoman and panelist Michelle Johnson said it will take a lot of work. She said her car was pulled over about a month and a half ago, a week after two black men were killed.

“I got stopped because my registration sticker wasn’t on my car, but it was in my glove compartment,” she said. “And I went to reach for my glove compartment and I froze; because I was afraid of what would happen if I moved too quickly.”

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue was also a panelist. He said police, as part of the pilot program in Chapel Hill, will begin monitoring the racial disparities at traffic stops. But he said communication and getting to know town residents personally can help solve misconceptions about one another. He said the police department will also be looking into options other than arrest for minor offenses.

“The more we contact each other, the more we know each other, the more perceptions can be addressed, the more misperceptions can be dispelled,” Blue said. “And I think one of the things we really need to focus on is finding ways to have interactions with each other across the community, across all kinds of systems that are not at the point of having to make law enforcement decisions. Find ways to know each other before you get to that point.”

Orange County Sheriff and panelist Charles Blackwood said miscommunication is much of what causes arguments between police and community members. He said things as simple as the voice tone taken with people police pull over can dramatically change the entire conversation.

“I’ve seen some horrible arguments on the side of the road starting from an officer very snappingly saying, ‘You know why I stopped you? Do you have a driver’s license?’” Blackwood said. “Worst fights ever. Over a stop sign? So it is training that we are ongoing with and I think it’s proven to be very fruitful.”

But EmPOWERment, Inc. Executive Director Delores Bailey says it’s one thing to talk about changing the conversation. But it’s another to enforce it.

“Reality is, what’s going to be different when Delores Bailey gets in her car, and she gets stopped, am I going to be afraid?” She said. “And that man is going to walk up to me and he’s not going to do what Sheriff Blackwood would do. He’s not going to say, ‘Delores, shouldn’t have run that stop sign.’ That’s what Sheriff Blackwood would have said. That officer is going to approach me and say to me, “You know what you did wrong?” That’s where he’s going to come from.”

Blackwood closed his remarks to the forum by agreeing. He said no matter what, things need to change within law enforcement in order to overcome these biases.

“We’ve got to do something different than what we’ve been doing,” he said. “The fast path of doing things the way they’ve been done just because that’s the way they’ve been done ain’t working no more. So let’s not snicker about this. It’s serious stuff. And we want to make a difference.”

Orange County is beginning to work on changes in policing, as CHPD begins its pilot program in the next few weeks. Officers will be required to wear body cameras, provide written documentation for vehicle searches in which an officer requests to search but doesn’t have probable cause, and address enforcement for minor offenses. Police Officers will also be required to attend racial equity training.


Chapel Hill Police Department, Downtown Partnership Prepare for Halloween

The Chapel Hill Police Department is planning the yearly shut-down of Franklin Street for Homegrown Halloween, Chapel Hill’s Halloween celebration. CHPD starts planning for Halloween a year in advance.

“We really start planning each year for the next Halloween November first,” said Police Chief Chris Blue. “It’s a year round event as we consider what we learned the previous year and what we can apply.”

He says this year, Halloween is going to look a little bit different, especially since October 31 falls on a Monday. Because it’s an early weekday, Blue says the event will be earlier this year: 8:00 – 10:30 P.M.

“We found the last few years that announcing the closure and opening time helps people to plan their visit and it helps us when we begin trying to clear the street,” he said. “Folks know what to expect when we make some announcements in advance of that street clearing and it just works great.”

Also unlike previous years, police are keeping Columbia Street open, and are shifting the event from Spanky’s to the Morehead Planetarium. This is so vendors on Columbia and West Franklin Streets don’t have to lose business because of the pedestrian traffic.

Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership Executive Director Meg McGurk said the town had a meeting with vendors to ensure the new plan would work for everyone.

“Before any of us went public with it was first, ‘How do you feel about it? Is this going to work for you? What is your feedback?’” she said. “And we still had the ability to kind of adjust those plans if we heard overwhelmingly that this wasn’t going to work for them.”

McGurk also said many of these vendors will be selling Halloween costumes and props leading up to the event, but Blue said there will be a ban on costume pieces that look as if they could be used as a weapon. Other bans include flammables, pets and alcohol.

But overall, he said most of the attendees have been respectful of these bans, and of the event in the past.

“People have gotten really good about policing themselves with respect to what they bring to the event,” Blue said. “So we’re really pleased our messaging has worked so well along with the merchants, along with the university, the neighborhoods, we think it’s going just about as well as it can go for an event of that scale.”

Police are requesting that pedestrians enter the event via Rosemary Street or Cameron Avenue. For more information on Homegrown Halloween visit the town’s website here.


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.


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.


Chris Blue: Hometown Hero

Chris Blue is Thursday’s Hometown.  He is the Chapel Hill Police Chief.

He’s been the Police Chief for nearly 6 years.  There are many reasons to honor Chief Blue, but we want to put the spotlight on his work with Volunteers for Youth.  He’s been working with the organization for years.  Volunteers for Youth has been helping since 1981.  Through the mentoring program, community service program, and teen court program, they work to provide young people with the tools to become responsible adults.

Learn more about Volunteers For Youth.

A big fundraiser for Volunteers for Youth is the annual Larry Fedora Golf Tournament.  This year’s tournament is Monday, May 16th.  Chief Blue has been working to get the word out about the fundraiser.  Find out more about the tournament.

You can nominate your own Hometown Hero.  WCHL has honored local members of our community everyday since 2002.


CHPD Accepting Applications for Community Police Academy

The Chapel Hill Police Department will host its Community Police Academy beginning Tuesday April 5 and now is your chance to apply.

The Community Police Academy is a chance to get an “inside look” at the workings of the police department said Chapel Hill Police Lieutenant Josh Mecimore.

“It’s a good opportunity to spend a few hours on two different days learning about the police department, meeting a lot of our police officers, finding out how we train, who we are, why we do the things we do,” said Mecimore.

Participants will have the chance to do exercises that simulate real police scenarios, learn about arrest procedures and investigative policing over a two day period.

“On the Saturday you’ll get to meet out K-9 units and then learn a lot of stuff about fair and impartial policing,” said Mecimore.

Mecimore said the academy is a great opportunity to have a positive interaction with the police.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for people to learn about us and not have it be like that five minute interaction you might have when you get stopped for a speeding ticket or something,” said Mecimore.

Mecimore said they usually have about 30 participants and afterwards those participants often form a closer bond with the police department.

“We’ve had a lot of fun, I think most of them have enjoyed it. I’ve stayed in contact with quite a few, some of them regularly call to talk about things or to find out what’s going on around the community,” said Mecimore, “So it has been good for us and I hope it’s been good for the people that went through it.”

Anyone over to age of 16 is invited to participate. The application is open until Monday March 14.


Chapel Hill Police are ‘ALERT’ to March Madness Booze Violations

During March Madness, Chapel Hill Police have their hands full dealing with lots of alcohol-related offenses.

And every year, the police are well-prepared.

Chapel Hill’s Alcohol Law Enforcement Response Team, known simply as ALERT, was out in force this past Friday night, issuing citations for various infractions.

Lt. Josh Mecimore, a spokesperson for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said it’s typical for the ALERT team to be active around March Madness.

“It’s a group of officers that will come together on busy weekends — game weekends – and then, sometimes, just random weekends for things like alcohol enforcement,” said Mecimore.

Other special ALERT duties include responses to loud parties, and looking out for underage alcohol purchases at convenience stores.

On Friday, police focused their efforts downtown, within the central business district – West Rosemary, Church Street, and East Franklin Street, in particular.

“The majority were for things like underage possession, open container, and a couple of fraudulent uses of ID,” said Mecimore. “One person was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana, and one person was charged with carrying a concealed handgun.”

Mecimore added that finding concealed weapons is not common to this type of operation.

But it’s not unheard-of, either. He said that sometimes, somebody may have informed an officer of a concealed weapon, but doesn’t have a permit.

Mecimore said that ALERT operations are not necessarily related to just the university’s calendar.

“We also to the same thing with the high school schedules,” said Mecimore. “So, around prom and graduation, and some of the breaks that they take.”

That, said Mecimore, is when the calls to respond to loud parties become more frequent.

Throughout the year, ALE liaison officers train local bartenders in responsible serving practices. That includes learning to spot a fake ID, and knowing when to cut someone off when they’ve had too much to drink.

Over-serving alcohol to a customer is a violation of state law.


Police Chiefs from Chapel Hill, Carrboro to Meet With NAACP

Police chiefs from Chapel Hill and Carrboro will meet with the local NAACP Saturday to answer questions about racial equity in Orange County policing.

The meeting follows up on forums held back in October, after citizens started asking questions about military gear and tactics used by local police departments all over the U.S.

Such issues were highlighted by unrest in Ferguson, MO. over the Aug. 9 death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who was shot by Police Officer Darren Wilson. The officer was not charged in the incident.

Concerns over policing were also stirred by a New York Times article that shed light on the 1033 program of the Department of Defense.

The program supplies surplus military gear to local law enforcement agencies nationwide. Chapel Hill and Carrboro police have, at times, participated in the program, but did not receive high-powered weapons, according to both chiefs.

Chief Chris Blue of the Chapel Hill Police Department hosted a forum with citizens at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Oct 4.

Blue addressed concerns about low recruitment of African-American officers on his force by saying the CHPD had “not done a very good job” in that area, but he added that applications have been generally declining in recent years.

Two days later, Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton held a similar forum at Town Hall. He admitted that he took exception to questions about racial profiling.

“We don’t racially profile,” said Horton. “To be honest with you, I kind of feel offended by that, because, being the first black chief – I know how it feels to grow up being a black male here. I’ve been walking, and had people cross the street. I’ve been in other places and looked at funny by the police. I know how that feels. So, I would not let that go on.”

Both chiefs have attended Organizing Against Racism workshop training since holding their October forums.

Saturday’s meeting of the Orange County NAACP and the police chiefs of Chapel Hill and Carrboro takes place at noon at the Rogers Road Community Center on 101 Edgar St. in Chapel Hill.


Chapel Hill Police Honor Officer in Hospice, as Support Pours in from All Over NC

An effort by local law enforcement to honor a former officer has prompted an outpouring of support from police officers across the country.

Officer Tom Mitchell was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011 and medically retired from the Chapel Hill Police Department after 16 years of service.

Friend and former colleague Officer Eric Dallin says the tumor has robbed Mitchell of his short-term memory, but not his love of the job.

“Tom suffers from some confusion sometimes,” says Dallin. “He still believes he’s in law enforcement, even though he has medically retired. He gets up and puts his uniform on to go to work, and his mother has to tell him, ‘You have the day off.'”

This month, after several medical setbacks, Mitchell was placed into hospice care. His mother told friends and family Mitchell had one request.

“She asked him what he wanted for Christmas,” says Dallin, “and he said he wanted ‘the police department.’ And of course, that kind of broke all of our hearts.”

Dallin put out a statewide call to find a way to make Mitchell’s wish come true.

“I thought to myself, how do we grant Tom the wish of giving him ‘the police department’ for Christmas?” says Dallin. “And, basically, we asked everybody in the state of North Carolina, all 100 counties, if they would share with Tom, something that is representative of the word ‘family,’ or something that represents their commitment to serving their communities.”

He says the response has been overwhelming. The department has received everything from patches and badges to blankets, helmets, and handcuff keys.

As the donations continue to pour in, word has spread nationwide, prompting law enforcement officials from across the country to send in mementos for Officer Mitchell.

Dallin says the family is honored by the outpouring of love.

“They are just, really, honored and speechless,” says Dallin. “There are just no words that can explain what that type of support means to a family that’s really struggling with the things that the Mitchell family is struggling with.”

Mitchell joined the Chapel Hill Police Department in 1995. Dallin was sworn in about two years later. He describes Mitchell as someone with a “giant heart,” who’s always among the first to make anyone feel welcome.

The police department is still collecting items, and Dallin says that officers will likely make multiple deliveries to the family in the coming days.