Police, Sheriff’s Office Look To Build New Community Relationships

When it comes to how safe people feel in our community, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood says, “People’s perception becomes their reality.”

While Chapel Hill and Orange County are, overall, safe places to live and work, recent local events such as the shooting of three Muslim college students have left many unsettled.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue says the shooting opened his eyes to segments of the population who don’t feel connected to law enforcement.

“We learned very clearly there, where we thought we had just about every portion of our community served, a significant portion of our community -area Muslims- didn’t feel real connected to law enforcement or a broader array of services,” says Blue.

Additionally, national protests sparked by the police shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri have many questioning the role police play when called to intervene.

Blue says it’s important to build community relationships before tragedy strikes.

“I think it’s something you have to stay at all the time and be finding ways to be together and communicate and build relationships so you’re not exchanging business cards on the day of a crisis,” says Blue. “When you really need to draw on those relationships is not the time to form them.”

Blackwood agrees and says his deputies are piloting a program to meet residents in local fire stations as a way to build trust in the community.

“We’re stating to embrace the idea of, if one of our officers needs to talk with someone in a community that’s not close to our office, and it can’t be held on the telephone, we’re asking them to meet us at the fire station,” says Blackwood. “The citizen learns a little about what that fire station stands for, they feel comfortable walking across that threshold, and they’re likely to come back if they need something.”

Orange County Justice United Member Stephanie Perry said in order to build trust throughout the community police and residents need to address their implicit biases.

“We have got to get back to a place where we are humanizing people versus de-humanizing people, and we have got to get to a place where we are relying less and less on weapons of destruction and more on tools that foster love and humanity between us,” says Perry. “I know that sounds idealistic, but it’s really not.”

Blue and Blackwood say confronting bias is a continuous process for their officers.

“Your own confrontation of your bias is a unique and personal journey, yet we all have a responsibility for that reflection and analysis,” says Blue. “When in you’re in positions of some authority or public responsibility, the expectation that your journey is moving along at a faster pace is a reasonable one to have, because it should, to meet that community expectation that you are well on your way.”

You can listen to the full discussion from the 2015 WCHL forum panel on safety and tolerance here.


CHPD To Patrol Crosswalks In February: Bike And Pedestrian Safety

This month, Chapel Hill Police will continue monitoring specific streets and crosswalks throughout town, as part of their ongoing initiative to promote pedestrian and bicycle safety.

On Wednesday, February 4, from 8:45-9:45 a.m., officers will be near campus, monitoring the area around Country Club Road, Boundary Street and Battle Lane. On Thursday at the same time, officers will be posted on Columbia Street at the UNC Health Sciences Building.

Next Tuesday, February 10, officers will monitor South Columbia Street between Franklin Street and Cameron Avenue, also from 8:45-9:45 in the morning. Then on Tuesday, February 24, from 7:30-8:30 a.m., officers will be stationed on Raleigh Road at Glen Lennox.

It’s all to make sure drivers, bikers and pedestrians are following the rules of the road, especially around crosswalks. Officers may cite violations, including drivers who don’t yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk or pedestrians who cross against the signals. Fines and court costs for those violations may cost you more than $200.

Those police patrols are part of a much larger initiative the Town is undertaking to promote bicycle and pedestrian safety.

For more information on how to stay safe on the roads (for drivers, bikers and pedestrians), visit this page on the town’s website.

If you’d like to share your concerns about bike and pedestrian safety with the Town of Chapel Hill – including specific areas where safety is a particular issue – visit this page.


DOT Preparing for Long Night as Inclement Weather Looms

The possibility of inclement weather throughout our area has led to the state Department of Transportation going into overdrive to prepare the roadways.

Mark Mueller is the Communication Officer for the division of the DOT that oversees Orange County, and he says they have been watching the forecast to most efficiently prepare.

“It’s looking like .01 – .12” of accumulation,” he says. “The potential for down tree lines usually happens at .25 – .5” – so it does not look like that’s going to be happening.”

Mueller adds crews have been preparing all day to ensure the equipment will be up to the task for a long night’s work.

“We’re looking to have crews start around 7 o’clock [Tuesday] evening,” he says. “And we’re expecting 30 – 35 people on hand.”

Mueller says the lingering rain has caused a change of plans for how they typically prepare thoroughfares.

“They’re not planning, at this point, to put down any salt brine, since there’s rain in the forecast,” he says. “But they’re likely going to be putting down the hard salt.

“[It will be put down] at a minimum on the bridges, likely on the roads – depending on how the forecast comes.”

Mueller says the DOT is advising commuters to stay off the roadways, if at all possible, and to exercise caution if you are traveling.


Two Hit By Car Thurs Night On Franklin St

Another incident involving a vehicle striking a pedestrian – two pedestrians, in this case – occurred late Thursday night in downtown Chapel Hill.

According to Chapel Hill police, the incident took place on West Franklin Street at about 11 p.m. Two pedestrians, one male and one female, were struck by a vehicle in the crosswalk by SunTrust Bank.

The driver remained on scene, and both pedestrians were transported to UNC Hospitals with minor injuries.

The full statement from Chapel Hill Police is below:

“On Thursday at approximately 11 p.m., the Chapel Hill Police Department responded to a reported traffic accident involving two pedestrians on W. Franklin St. Upon officers arrival they found a male and female that had reportedly been struck by a vehicle while in the crosswalk in front of SunTrust Bank.  Both the male and female were transported to UNC Hospital with what appeared to be only minor injuries. Both driver and vehicle were still on scene. The investigation is ongoing and additional information will be forthcoming.”

The Town of Chapel Hill has stepped up its efforts to promote bike and pedestrian safety this month – including targeted enforcement and electronic signs in high-traffic areas. Read more about it here.


Check Your Smoke Alarm!

Chapel Hill Fire Marshal Todd Iaeger says roughly half of home fire deaths result from nighttime fires when people are asleep, and the number one key for reducing those deaths is to have a working smoke detector.

“It’s the number one way to keep people safe and notify them,” Marshal Iaeger says. “Your chances dramatically drop of being killed or injured in a fire if you have proper smoke detection.”

Marshal Iaeger is currently promoting Fire Prevention Week with this year’s campaign slogan of “Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives, Test Yours Every Month”.

The US Fire Administration reports that fires involving laundry equipment are reported approximately 2,900 times per year, and on Sunday, a home in the Finley Forrest Neighborhood near the Friday Center caught fire due to an overheating of the dryer vent piping.

Marshal Iaeger says when winterizing your home, it’s also a good time to have your equipment maintained by a professional in order to assure it’s working properly and safely.

“You always want to make sure, on a regular basis, every month, that your lint filters or your lint exhaust areas of your building are clean,” Marshal Iaeger says. “Checking your dryer and cleaning the lint filter every use is the practical and appropriate thing to do. Anything else around the house when it comes to heating equipment—we’re getting into that season—you want to make sure that your utilizing a qualified and trained technician from an appropriate and respectable company that can come out and service your equipment.”

Fire Prevention Week runs through Saturday.

This year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign includes:
• Install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each bedroom and on every level of the home, including the basement.
• Interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. This way, when one sounds, they all sound.
• Test alarms at least monthly by pushing the test button.
• Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old or sooner if they don’t respond properly.
• Make sure everyone in the home knows the sound of the smoke alarm and understands what to do when they hear it.

For more information, visit firepreventionweek.org.


CHHS Precautionary Lockdown Lifted

3:55 p.m. update: Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools spokesperson Jeff Nash confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the school was placed on lockdown due to an altercation between students. He said one student apparently pepper sprayed another student.

It took approximately ten minutes to locate the pepper spray and confirm the incident was controlled, according to Nash. He said the student said it was an accident.

Story originally posted September 23, 2014, 3:45 p.m.

A receptionist at Chapel Hill High School confirmed Tuesday at around 2:45 p.m. that the school was locked down as a precaution Tuesday but that the lockdown was no longer active.

The receptionist couldn’t give further details about why the school was placed on lockdown or when it occurred. She said Assistant Principal Kevin Kay could provide more information, but when forwarded to his extension, he did not answer.

News of the lockdown was initially shared by the parent of a student on Facebook. She posted that neither she nor her student knew why the school was locked down.


Chapel Hill Police Remind Residents To Lock Up

A flick of the wrist might keep you from falling victim to one of Chapel Hill’s most common crimes.

Lieutenant Josh Mecimore says many larcenies and burglaries happen because citizens leave doors unlocked, making it easy for thieves to steal.

“We had a number of break-ins that involved either unlocked vehicles or people going into garages and taking items where the garage was left open overnight,” says Mecimore.

Chapel Hill police say thieves will often walk through yards, driveways and parking lots trying door handles until they find an unlocked car or garage. Mecimore reminds residents to lock up everything, including cars, houses, windows and garages.

“What we encourage people to do is make your house, your vehicle, your property a harder target than someone else’s, so that you’re not the person that a criminal chooses to victimize.”

According to the North Carolina Department of Justice, there were 3,500 property crimes reported in Orange County in 2012, the last year for which statistics were available.

If you’re interested in more safety tips from Chapel Hill Police, you can contact the Community Services Unit at (919) 932-2929.


Another Chapel Hillian To Help Fight Ebola?

Another medical professional with ties to Chapel Hill may be heading to Africa to help in the fight against the Ebola virus.

Chapel Hill native Anna Freeman is a nurse with Doctors Without Borders, which says its mission is to serve areas where there is the greatest need.

Freeman was a nurse at UNC Hospitals before applying to work with DWB. She worked in post-surgical care of children with heart defects.

“One thing that I find very rewarding about nursing work—working as a bedside nurse—is working with somebody who finds themselves in a situation often out of their control that can be very difficult to deal with either physically or emotionally, or often both,” Freeman says.

Freeman says she felt drawn to areas known as conflict, post-conflict, and intermittent-conflict zones, or areas struggling with epidemic diseases. She says there was an urge to help those who couldn’t always help themselves.

“Very often, people who find themselves in these circumstances are civilians, are women and children who live in very poor areas,” Freeman says. “I find that very unjust that people don’t have access to health care as a result or have very poor health care. There’s a lot of suffering that goes along with that.”

She says working to help alleviate suffering is very rewarding and that she’s fascinated experiencing new things in places that, when you first arrive, you might not know what awaits you.

Freeman may be heading to Africa in the next few weeks to help in the fight against Ebola. This is the largest outbreak of the disease on record. As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control reported the suspected and confirmed case count was nearing 1,900; the suspected number of deaths had just surpassed 1,000.

WCHL spoke with UNC physician William Fischer upon his return to the states from Africa where he treated people who had contracted Ebola. He said he left feeling like there was more he could do, and that he would certainly be willing to return.

Freeman’s comments were made on a recent edition of Who’s Talking with D.G. Martin, heard weekends on WCHL. Click here to listen (August 2, 2014 edition).


Orange County Animal Services Advise Coyote Safety

Orange County Animal Services has released a media advisory about what citizens can do to stay safe and stay smart when it comes to coexisting with wild coyotes in the county and throughout North Carolina.

The Director of Orange County Animal Services, Bob Marotto, says that while advisories about coexisting with coyotes have been issued for several years now, what prompted the latest alert was the recent surge in reports from the Hillsborough area involving missing outside cats and other small pets that are kept outdoors, which Animal Services has connected to the presence of coyotes preying on these pets.

“They are virtually everywhere,” says Marotto, “not only in all 100 counties in North Carolina, but in all of the different areas of Orange County as well.”

He says there has been a rise in coyote presence in more urban areas as well, such as one case earlier this summer in which Animal Services impounded a coyote that was found in an alley on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

Marotto says that the three greatest “attractants” for coyotes to invade areas in which they normally are not found are food, water, and shelter, which he says can come from a number of different sources.

Food sources can come from spills when feeding dogs or wild birds.

Marotto suggests that in order to prevent coyotes from becoming too habituated, or generally comfortable around human populated areas, people need to give the coyotes reasons to stay far away.

“People should haze coyotes if and when there is contact,” says Marotto. “People should make loud noises and do things that make the coyote turn around and go away from us. If we don’t do that, what happens is that coyotes become more and more comfortable or tolerant and habituated, and eventually then we do have some incidents that we really don’t want to have.”

In addition to likely food sources for coyotes coming from loose pet food, Marotto says that local wildlife biologists are certain that some cats and even small dogs have become part of the food chain for coyotes. In order to prevent outdoor pets from being taken by coyotes, Marotto offers a few recommendations as to what pet owners can do when it comes to allowing their beloved pets outdoors.

“One of them is not just leaving your cat or your dog outside, and leaving it outside, because in those circumstances there is not a person present to fend off or haze and deflect any approaches by a coyote,” says Marotto. “In addition to being present with our dogs or cats when they are outside, if there is some consideration of leaving them outside unattended, they must really be in a secure enclosure.”

Citizens are encouraged to contact Orange County Animal Services if they encounter coyotes engaging in threatening behavior or becoming habituated in residential areas, they can access the Coyote Incident Reporting Form here, or call Animal Services at (919) 942-7387.


CHPD Chief: ‘Robbery/Murder A Random Act’

Chapel Hill citizens are expressing through social media their concern for safety after a random act of attempted robbery led to the death of a UNC professor Wednesday afternoon.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue says he wants to assure all citizens that the police officers are constantly monitoring the community for suspicious activity to help keep the town as safe as possible.

“We’re proud of the nature of our community’s safety,” Chief Blue says. “It’s something that we all work very hard on as community members. In fact, we all have a responsibility for it, and I’m proud of the way our community rises to that challenge. I will say that this one is particularly troubling because it’s so random—in the middle of the day. All of our sense of safety as community members takes a hit when something so random and unexplained happens, as was the case here. Immediately our reaction as a police department is to increase presence in the neighborhoods and knock on doors and reassure folks. But, we also recognize that grieving and dealing with this kind of shocking circumstance takes some time. We’re scratching our heads a little bit just like everyone else in the community is about just why and how this could happen.”

WCHL’s Ran Northam spoke with Chief Blue

The incident took place just a couple blocks west of the UNC School of Public Health and split of Pittsboro and South Columbia streets. Fifty-nine-year-old Feng Liu, of Greyfield Boulevard in Durham and a professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy was known to take a walk through the community during his lunch break, according to multiple media outlets. Colleagues said it was a way he reenergized himself daily.

Chief Blue says he can’t release any additional information because the investigation is ongoing, however, he says it was a town employee that first arrived to find Liu in need of medical attention. According to the News and Observer, prosecutors said Liu was hit in the head with a rock. He died at UNC Hospitals.

Public Information Lieutenant Josh Mecimore says the list of items stolen from Liu has not yet been released.

UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken was out of town Friday and unable to be reached.

In a statement released through Alert Carolina, Chief McCracken emphasized how important it is to always be prepared.

“People should have a plan in mind about how to respond in an emergency because it’s very difficult to plan for an emergency when you’re in the middle of one,” he said. “It’s important for people to know beforehand where the exits are, where the fire escapes are, the safest place in the building to be if a tornado is spotted, that kind of thing. Planning decreases panic and increases the chance for a better outcome in an emergency situation.”