A new website launched on Thursday that details the demographic stop and search patterns of North Carolina law enforcement agencies.
Ian Mance is a staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and, on Thursday, he laid out the details of a website that allows citizens to check into the patterns of area law enforcement, saying this is the culmination of two years worth of work inspired by UNC professor Frank Baumgartner.
The new website breaks down patterns of police activity by department all across the state of North Carolina regarding who officers are pulling over and the demographic rates at which law enforcement officials are searching drivers.
WCHL’s Blake Hodge spoke about the website with Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.
North Carolina law requires police officers to record data regarding, among other things, the age, race and gender of motorist that are stopped.
That data has been compiled over the last 15 years and this website aims to show the data is a more easily digestible form.
In Chapel Hill, black drivers make up 27 percent of the stops by police, compared to 65 percent for their white counterparts in 2015. But black drivers make up 46 percent of searches by Chapel Hill Police, while white drivers make up 51 percent of searches.
All that while 2010 census data shows that the population of Chapel Hill is nearly 73 percent white and almost 10 percent black.
Mance says that North Carolina is ahead of the national curve simply for having this data on hand, as most other states do not require this information of their law enforcement.
The website has subsets to look at the percent of stops broken down by race and ethnicity, search rates, contraband hit rates after a search has been conducted and use of force rates, among other areas.
Users can look at the data from the North Carolina Highway Patrol, County Sheriff’s Offices and local Police Departments. You can also look up patterns of individual law enforcement officers based off of their confidential ID number, which allows for the officer’s privacy to be protected.
Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock has involved his department in the Presidential Task Force that was created by the White House after the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police.
He says this can be used as a means by which police can improve activity. He says, while there are some areas where more figures can tell a fuller picture, you can’t argue with the raw data.
“I have to tell you that I’m scared and vulnerable every day,” he says, “no matter what the topic.
“We are who we are, and we’re doing what we need to do…we’re using, in the Fayetteville Police Department, every vehicle or every opportunity available to us to learn more about how and why we’re doing business the way we are and how to improve it.”
Medlock says he has used this data to change how his officers patrol, now telling them to focus on moving violations rather than regulatory stops over out-of-date registration or broken tail lights, saying that has reduced motorist fatalities in Fayetteville.
Medlock says this new method includes asking officers to have probable cause to search a vehicle rather than arbitrarily asking for consent.
“A lot of times you’ll ask a street cop, and I was one, ‘why do you ask for consent,’” he says. “And the answer is, ‘because I can.’
“It’s not against the law to ask for consent, and a person certainly does not have to give it. But, if you look at it from the perspective of me not wearing this uniform, I can also understand why someone would be afraid not to give consent.”
Medlock says this is leading to a new era for law enforcement.
“The days of policing occurring in secret are over.”