In Review- A Comparison of Chapel Hill and Carrboro's Forums on Policing

In light of national struggles with policing methods, enforcement and militarization, both Chapel Hill and Carrboro police departments hosted sessions for community members to voice their potential concerns directly to Chapel Hill Police Chief Blue Oct. 4 and Carrboro Chief Horton Oct. 5. The two forums revealed underlying issues in each community, with Carrboro’s discussion especially distinct in the way it gravitated toward racial profiling issues.

Blue’s Question and Answer session in the public library touched briefly on profiling issues, with Blue acknowledging shortcomings of the demographic makeup of the department itself. Blue referenced a couple projects the department was working on to help fight bias in policing, including the hiring of a new assistant police chief. It was clear however, that the presentation was set up to address concerns about militarization. Blue discussed the mistakes and lessons learned from Yates before taking any questions, and had the most information prepared about what types of equipment officers are armed with and why the department considers it necessary. Much of his argument relied on community trust in the police force, especially when Ferguson was directly referenced by audience members. At Carrboro's forum, Horton used the same appeal when he defended the Carrboro complaint procedure, saying “you have to have faith in me” when someone suggested a flaw in the “police policing police” way in which the procedures are handled. Each department is facing a mistrust issue- whether warranted or not.

Carrboro’s forum was much more discussion based, and even though Horton came prepared with extensive information about what tools are available to officers – even bringing in vests, shields, helmets and other equipment as examples – the issue was addressed much more in its relation to racial profiling than types and extent of weaponry. Horton initially seemed a bit taken aback by the overwhelming concern over profiling within Carrboro – especially those regarding traffic stops and searches. He sought to re-assure attendees that the police department takes every precaution to prevent this issue and gave advice on how to improve current conditions surrounding the matter.

While Blue mentioned the Yates case out of necessity, Horton justified arming Carrboro police by showing that it has happened before and by including instances of shootings in the area – most notably the case in which two people were killed,and others wounded when UNC Law student Wendell Williamson opened fire randomly along Henderson Street in 1995.

One idea approached in the Carrboro discussion was that of a Citizen's Task Force. The concept was suggested multiple times by audience members.

The Carrboro discussion also touched briefly on Horton’s relationship with the community, something not broached in Blue’s forum and perhaps unique to Carrboro’s more intimate population. Horton urged promotion of a more positive image of the police in the community.

Both departments are active on social media, and Carrboro’s Twitter even addressed concerns about speeding on Rogers Road a few days after these concerns were raised at the forum, tweeting that traffic enforcement will be held at random times on the road effective immediately.


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