Local Law Enforcement Begins Hard Work Toward Racial Equity

It is clear from recent police forums and from experiences shared by people of color in our communities that we have a serious problem with racial equity in policing in Orange County. The most recent example is a guest column by Stephanie Perry in Sunday’s Chapel Hill News (12/21/14). Perry serves with me on the board of Orange County Justice United. We heard other stories like this during the Carrboro community forum on policing in October.

Law enforcement behavior that is disproportionately affecting communities of color is unacceptable to me. It is especially troubling to see that these disparities exist in our communities regardless of how enlightened we think we are. I am cautiously optimistic about the steps I see the Carrboro and Chapel Hill Police Departments taking.


The Carrboro Police Department held its first community forum on policing on October 6. In a follow-up report to the Carrboro Board of Alderpersons in November, Police Chief Walter Horton detailed these action steps, flowing from feedback heard at the forum:

  • racial equity training of police personnel;
  • improved records management and statistical data and work with the Orange County Public Defender’s office to identify racial profiling where it exists and alter policing methods accordingly;
  • hold targeted conversations with specific community groups, especially young people of color; and
  • conduct additional community engagement activities, including at least 2 community forums per year, the next tentatively scheduled for June 2015.

Following this report by Chief Horton, the Board of Alderpersons directed staff to include the following information in their next update on this issue:

  • an update on participation of the chief and the captains in the Organizing Against Racism training (a 2-day workshop); {note: Chief Horton attended the training held in Chapel Hill on December 16-17, 2014};
  • an update on participation in the Fair and Impartial Policing program, including cooperation with other local police departments;
  • an update on the potential for implementing a citizens’ police academy;
  • an update on further conversations and work with the Orange County Public Defender’s office (Orange County Public Defender James Williams serves on the North Carolina Commission on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System), including improvements to the Police Department’s record keeping and statistics reporting;
  • an update on planning for the next community forum or listening session, possibly in June 2015;
  • information about the City of Durham’s recent adoption of a requirement to obtain written consent for searches and what such a policy might look like in Carrboro;
  • information about how the Carrboro Police Department’s law enforcement resources are currently allocated in terms of the share of arrests, citations, etc for different kinds of incidents;
  • a plan to include in upcoming budget discussions the possibility of staff-wide racial equity training;
  • an update on a follow-up with the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools about student safety concerns in the schools;
  • information about a potential forum or conversation with persons interested in discussing domestic violence; and
  • information about other resources or support the Carrboro Police Department may need from the Board.

This information was provided through Alderperson Damon Seils’s website.

Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill police chief Chris Blue and his staff are working on a number of issues that came up during their first forum on October 4, 2014. Not stemming from the forum but of note is the Chapel Hill Police Department’s recent hire of a new assistant police chief, Alonzo Jaynes, formerly of the Durham Police Department and African American. He will be working closely with Chief Blue around issues of racial equity in policing.

Chief Blue has already attended at least one Organizing Against Racism training. While the Chapel Hill Police Department does not currently have a policy in place to require this training, several employees attend each training, including two executive-level staff members in the most recent training held December 1 and 2, 2014 in Chapel Hill.

The Chapel Hill Police Department is planning to host training specifically for police officers beginning in early 2015 and have invited other Orange County Law Enforcement agencies to attend. While the CHPD already required supervisors to review stop and arrest data with employees, this training will provide technical assistance on assessing law enforcement data and statistics for racial equity in stops, arrests etc. This technical assistance will provide law enforcement staff with information on how to best interpret and talk about individual findings.

The Community Policing Advisory Committee will discuss these issues at it's January 14, 2014 business meeting, which is held at 7:00 pm in the Police Department conference room and it open to the public.

The Police Department plans to collaborate with the Town of Chapel Hill’s Justice In Action Committee on its community outreach efforts.

In addition, Chief Blue has been invited by the Orange County NAACP to attend their meeting in January and he and Chief Horton will be attending. The Orange County NAACP is working to ensure that young men of color will be in attendance for this dialogue.

* * *


One of the suggestions for reducing racial inequities in policing and preventing instances of police violence is the use of body cameras by police officers. Both the Carrboro and Chapel Hill Police Departments are already making efforts in this area.

Chief Blue of the Chapel Hill Police Department said, “We have dashboard cameras in all of our patrol cars. This has been the case for a number of years now. We are currently testing body cameras to evaluate the best product for purchase. We hope to roll out a body camera program in 2015. The cost of the cameras is not that significant but the storage space for the data is very costly. We are looking at ways to manage that cost, too.”

The Chapel Hill Police Department’s policy on audio/video recordings can be found here.

Carrboro’s Chief Horton worked for several months with the ACLU of  North Carolina, the district attorney’s office, and others on a policy for in-car cameras. That policy can be found here.

So, what do you think?

What more would you like to see done to address racial equity within law enforcement?

As of yet, we have not heard much from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. My hope is that with the swearing in of a new sheriff, Charles Blackwood, we will hear more from this office on this issue.


Thank you, Molly, for taking the time to gather this information for us. There are two matters troubling me:

1) I fully accept the concern about racial equality in our policing. But are you, or the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, or the Chapel Hill Town Council, or Chief Horton, or Chief Blue suggesting that this is the only concern citizens of Carrboro and Chapel Hill have expressed with their policing?

2) Why do we seem to assume that an indirect approach to resolution of community concerns with our policing is effective? Why are we pursuing such an arm's length stance towards our police?

I can't pretend to know all of the concerns. Or their relative merit. Or what might be the communities' preferred solutions. Can you? Can anyone?

Doesn't it make more sense to adopt a more quantitatively-sure, direct-democratic approach, and actually allow concerned citizens to decide for themselves how they would like to be policed? Allow people of color themselves directly to design policing protocol that affects them?

Is not the best solution for Carrboro and Chapel Hill each to have their own Citizen's Policing Task Force, established by their respective elected officials, where citizens, elected officials and police can gather together, discuss all of the concerns, and explore the possibility of consensual resolution - directly; rather than this tortuous smoke and mirrors process of community to officials to staff to police, back to staff, to elected officials, maybe back to staff, to ... (I ran out of breath) ... ??

I have written further comments, both in respect of the original post by Molly, and in response to the new shooting near Ferguson, Missouri, and its application in Orange County, NC. I won't clog up this forum. You can find those thoughts here.

What I will say is that folks have asked me to let them know when they can do something, what and how. The when is now. The how is to offer your thoughts, right away, on what you think needs to be done to improve policing in your community (about all of your concerns, not just racial inequality), what you think about the notion of citizens designing their own policing approach, and what you think about a preliminary step of elected officials from police funding agencies setting up citizen’s task forces.

The Orange County NAACP meeting in which Chiefs Horton and Blue will be in attendance answering questions will be on Saturday, January 3rd at 12:00 pm. The meeting will be held at the Rogers Road Community Center on 101 Edgar Street in Chapel Hill.


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