Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Queries Police Chiefs and Sheriff on Racial Equity

During its regular monthly meeting, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the North Carolina NAACP hosted Chief Walter Horton of the Carrboro Police Department, Chief Chris Blue of the Chapel Hill Police Department, and Sheriff Charles Blackwood for a discussion of law enforcement issues. A diverse group of more than 50 people attended, including many members of the NAACP and other local social justice advocates. Orange County commissioner and civil rights attorney Mark Dorosin, Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Palmer, and Carrboro alderperson Damon Seils also attended.

The NAACP solicited questions in advance and posed them to each of the three law enforcement administrators in turn, and then questions were taken from the audience via index card. The questions focused on racial disparities in police stops, searches, and arrests on our streets and in our schools; the implicit bias that contributes to those disparities; de-escalation and use of force; and how to bring complaints to the attention of law enforcement.

Chief Horton, Chief Blue, and Sheriff Blackwood at the NAACP forum

Much of what Chiefs Blue and Horton said in response to these questions was already known and captured in a previous post on OrangePolitics, as both Carrboro and Chapel Hill have been working on these issues and have been transparent about the work they have done and what they have left to do. For example, both Blue and Horton acknowledged the problem of implicit bias and are working together to bring training and planning around the issue to their staff, including a Fair and Impartial Policing training early this year.

Of particular interest at this latest event was that it was the first time we have heard from the recently sworn in Sheriff Charles Blackwood on these issues. It was encouraging that Sheriff Blackwood accepted the NAACP’s invitation to this event. It was unclear, however, what he will be doing around the issues discussed, or whether he understands implicit bias and its effects; that the available data about police stops, searches, and arrests show overrepresentation among people of color; and that disparities in policing are a problem.

More than once during the forum, Sheriff Blackwood stated that we are all, black and white, the same under the skin. Facilitator Diane Robertson rightly pointedly responded that we do not all look alike and that treatment is often based on what we look like regardless of whether we are all the same under the skin.

Both Chief Horton and Chief Blue acknowledged there are racial and ethnic disparities in the percentage of stops, searches, and arrests. Throughout much of the event, the statistics showing that people of color are overrepresented in police actions were projected on a screen behind the facilitator. Both during our OrangePolitics sheriff candidate forum and at this event, Sheriff Blackwood’s comments suggested that he doesn’t understand these numbers. He asserted there is no disparity because half of police actions are taken against people of color and half against white people, seeming not to realize or understand the implication of the fact that people of color make up less than 25% of the population of Orange County.

On a positive note, Sheriff Blackwood stated that he recently discontinued Orange County’s drug interdiction unit. As Blackwood described it, the program involved having sheriff’s officers park along the highway and pull over drivers who looked like they might be involved in the drug trade. The troubled program was recently highlighted in the New York Times:

In one recent case, the public defender representing a Hispanic man on cocaine trafficking charges in Orange County, N.C., got a dismissal after presenting the prosecutor with evidence that Hispanics — while only 8 percent of the local population — had received more than half of the hundreds of warnings issued by the sheriff’s deputy who had made the arrest. The deputy had testified that he stopped the man’s truck for a minor traffic infraction. The prosecutor said multiple factors led to the dismissal.

Blackwood stated that the he discontinued the program because it was an unnecessary expense. But we now know that it was also highly racially inequitable in its outcomes, so its demise is welcome news.

Aaron Keck of WCHL/ was also in attendance and recorded the entire event. You can find his reporting, the entire audio, and highlights at


As part of the widening conversation in Carrboro, NC about citizen designing of policing approach, which might also have application elsewhere, some Carrboro Alderpeople have very kindly been holding some conversations with me, the product of which might well make a useful contribution to taking this whole process forward. I have told the three Alderpeople in question, Damon Seils, Michelle Johnson and Randee Haven O’Donnell, that I would be posting this note widely. And I look forward to anything they may wish to add (or correct!).

My only ambition with this issue is to help to nudge steps already underway, and to offer thoughts on perhaps broadening the process. Understanding the same can be assisted by reading the various posts written by local Orange County, NC activist Molly de Marco, especially as they relate to potential racial inequity in Orange County, NC []; the posts by Alderperson Damon Seils on his own web-site []; and my own start-up web-site [].

I am hoping that this post and any attendant commentary might serve as a touchstone point/capsule, whatever the correct terminology might be, to which folks can refer as a starting point for getting into the process, and as a point to which they can refer later, if they want to know if we’re still doing what we thought we wanted to do.

So. What next? I’m not going to itemize what was discussed with which Alderperson; just set out what I believe were the consensual items. The Alderpeople themselves, local activists and the Carrrboro police have already begun a series of actions, highlighted on both Damon Seil’s site and in Molly de Marco’s posts, and which deal especially with attempts racially to better sensitize the Carrboro police.

They are fine, as far as they go. My issue with them is that they are demands upon the police, not an invitation to engage the police as equal partners in designing a policing approach with which communities and the police are comfortable; they deal only with racial inequity, which is not the only issue about which I have heard concerns expressed, whether locally or more generally; and most importantly, they offer no process for allowing certainty of improvement in the comfort level between police and communities – sending a police officer on a course is no guarantee that the relationship between police and communities will improve, unless you have a process that ensures such improvement is occurring, and citizens and police are permitted an equal role in that overview monitoring of improvement.

What I sensed in our discussions was an understanding that all of the various initiatives underway are good and should be supported, but that there should be an overarching process to bring all the component parts together, and to drive towards a goal of citizen/police design of the overall relationship between police and the communities.

What do I visualize as the endpoint? Impossible to say. The concept of citizen/police joint design is not one widely understood in the US. It is a huge cultural shift for many of the parties, not least the police. If it is going to succeed, the process needs to be open to as many people as possible, the primary parties need to be engaged on an equal footing, and no one party can be allowed a veto. The key words are nudge and drive.

The problem with not setting up an immediate structure, with an all-encompassing certain goal, is that one can lose one’s way. What will keep it going? Two things. And I’m pretty certain we were all agreed on this: (1) The agency responsible at the moment for funding the police, namely the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, needs to adopt the mantle of primary driver of this process (they need to keep the issue alive by regularly holding incubator community forums, and by ensuring that the issue of policing approach remains firmly on their formal meeting agendas); and (2) This issue will only stay alive if citizens give a damn and keep it going.

All of that said, is there some sort of vision I have in my mind that says, yup, this process is useful and is going somewhere? Yes. In the links mentioned above are very specific accounts of policing in Carrboro which is not working. When I can turn to one of the protagonists involved, police officer or agitated citizen, and say, whoa, bring it down a tad, there’s a process that allows you to sort this out, to design a better way forward, when I can say that, then we are getting close to successful citizen/police design of policing approach. I don’t think we are there at the moment. And I don’t think the shopping lists of actions on Damon Seil’s site and in Molly de Marco’s posts on their own provide the way forward to that vision. Not without this accompanying process of citizen/police dialogue/engagement.

Right. Where to start? Well: (A) What can people do now; and (B) Where to from here, immediately.

A) Here’s the Carrboro Police web-site - And here’s Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton’s e-mail address - And here’s the information for your Carrboro Alderpeople - If you have an immediate problem with the manner in which your community is being policed, don’t yell at the police officer, contact the above and join in the dialogue.

Of course, you may not know you have a problem unless you know what are the existing rules of engagement between police officers and citizens in Carrboro. And right there, I’ve proven why these conversations are useful. I’ve tried finding those policies. Can’t. So, I’m hoping one of the Carrboro Alderpeople will add a link, and make sure that link is more widely available. Heck hem.

But. What if those policies don’t address your particular concern? Enter the new process.

B) At the moment, we are told that there will be a second police community forum/ listening session in June of this year. My thoughts go along the following lines, and were expressed in my conversations with Carrboro Alderpeople:

  • Once every six months is not enough. Let’s start with once a quarter.
  • I’m not sold at the moment on setting up any form of formal structure. Let’s see where the meetings go.
  • But. The meetings will go nowhere unless Carrboro Alderpeople work assiduously to ensure that at-risk communities in particular are invited and engaged; that police are fully engaged, and feel they are equal and respected partners; that there is report back and monitoring of compliance with what has been agreed.
  • It may well be that, in time, it’s considered a good idea to have specific meetings address specific issues, e.g. how police approach domestic violence, low-income neighborhoods.
  • It may well be that a meeting determines that a particular matter needs in-depth research by a small group. At which point working task forces could be set up. But, let structure evolve from the process.

Right. That’s a place to start. Let the process ensue. With a few caveats.

This process will only work if citizens get involved. If you want a better relationship between police and citizens, get on board. Otherwise, quit complaining. This process is not an excuse to allow people to break the law. I’m not looking to reduce the presence and impact of police just because some folks might want to be left alone so that they can break the law in peace and quiet. If you want less or better police presence and impact, then it is on you, on me, on us to become responsible for the behavior in our community.

Damon has written to me and directed me to the link for the new policing policy with respect to body cameras, which policy I understand was formulated by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen in concert with the ACLU:

I responded to Damon, letting him know that I would be posting this, while also gently making the point that, in future, I would envisage similar policies for other areas, but this time, including both citizens and police as well as elected officials and ACLU in their drafting and acceptance.

I also pointed out that this is one new policing policy. I asked him if he could, when he posts his notes of our meeting, which he said would be soon, if he could include links to the other existing police rules of engagement/policies, so that folks can determine where they believe there might be holes at the moment, or changes required.

[EDIT: Damon has already written back and said that he is unaware there are any other Carrboro policing policies currently posted online, and that will be one of the things he is checking into as a consequence of our conversation. Worth the price of a cup of coffee, eh?]

It's been a busy 2015. Here are my notes from the meeting and from some other events over the past few weeks:

Thank you, Damon, for posting your latest very comprehensive notes on policing and Carrboro. For me, the ambition remains evolving a process which ensures that, ultimately, it is citizens, acting in tandem with elected officials and police, who are designing the policing approach.

In this regard, I welcome the activity undertaken by you and others. But, in my opinion, that activity will continue potentially to miss the mark unless and until it is activity inspired and monitored by citizens themselves.

At the moment, the process is being driven by the police. I suspect that my ambition will only be realized when a shift occurs, such that the process is being driven by citizenry, with the support of elected officlals. In tandem with police, for sure, but not a process controlled by them.

The next step, in that regard, is the community forum in June. I had hoped, as I have expressed directly with you, that this forum might have been held earlier, and that there might be more of them, say, at least four a year, rather than just two.

You have said that Chief Horton has been asked to ensure that sufficient notice is given, in a variety of different ways and venues, so that as many as possible of those most seen at risk might be able to arrange to attend. I hope that Chief Horton might take some inspiration from the suggestions on creative engagment offered here and here on OrangePolitics.

I hope also that Chief Horton might, in line with the notion of evolving citizen design, allow the agenda for forums going forward to be determined by citizenry, as well as his police department. And that he and elected officials will ensure a process for ongoing meetings to include and highlight report back and follow-up action by the Board of Aldermen, and the like.

Citizen design is only going to become a reality if driven by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, and if the Board makes clear to its police department (and we are their employers) that these forums are not mere show and tell, but that they are being held as a prerequisite to and foundation for citizen engagement in policy-making.

In which regard, Chief Horton must feel that he is being urged to comply with what is discussed at these forums, and then formalized by the Board itself. The alternative is that the forums will descend into nothing more than aimless discussion and sideshow.

In the meantime, I met yesterday with Dick Paddock, third Vice-President of the Orange County NAACP, to exchange views. The NAACP and the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, Triangle Branch, are following up the recent NAACP policing forum with research into Civilian Review Boards.

The primary point upon which we agreed is that, if we want to permit citizens to influence policy making, monitoring and compliance within Carrboro, then our focus must be the Carrboro police department and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, the latter as the funding agency for the Carrboro police.

The starting point are these community forums. And, whatever you (Damon), I, others, the NAACP and so on may be doing privately counts for nothing if we do not bring it all together at the community forums being staged by the Carrboro police and the Board of Aldermen, in order to evolve and sustain that process of citizen design of policing.

So. As is clear from the entirety of this thread, many are interested, much is happening, the focus is the community forums, and the desire to evolve them into a process for citizen design of policing in Carrboro, both for Carrboro, and as a potential template for other communities in the US.

But, none of this will happen unless citizens take it upon themselves to attend the community forums, to drive them, and, with respect to you and your fellow Alderpeople, Damon, to maintain the gentle pressure on you to ensure that evolution does take place. Once again, I thank you for taking the lead in this regard. Along with your fellow Carrboro Alderpeople.

I wonder if our local elected officials are not still missing the point about citizens designing the policing approach in our community?

In the attached article, Carrboro Alderman Sammy Slade quite sensibly expresses caution about the new body camera policy being implemented by the Carrboro Police. What he urges is caution and analysis. Hmm.

Later on, Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils 'supports their [body cameras] implementation.' Double hmm.

Look. I'm not an anti-police anarchist. I do not believe the system is broken. Far from it. I just believe it needs to be addressed more effectively. And to be driven by citizens.

I'm not a fool. I understand that the concept of removing what appears to be the current sole authority of police to set their own policy to a situation where it is determined jointly and consensually by police, elected officials and citizens is a huge culture shift.

But. It's got to start moving. And it ain't going to start moving until the most important players in the shift get moving themselves. With respect.

The police have no funds that are not allocated by their funding agency. In the case of Carrboro, this is the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Come budget time (June), you attach conditions to the funding. In this case, a very simple condition, henceforth the Board of Aldermen, not the police, on their own, will take the lead in setting policy for the Carrboro police department.

That's it. Simple as that.

Citizen design of policing is only going to work if the police are brought along. But the emphasis is on being brought along. They do not have a veto. You don't agree to the condition, then no funding until you do.

It's not a question of legislative change. It's a matter simply of exercising will. And it will not be exercised so long as our Alderpeople act as if they are asking permission of the police to exercise the control they already have.

Yes, funding is policy making. The DTH article neglects to mention that the Board of Aldermen will hold multiple meetings between now and June regarding the fiscal year 2016 budget, which would fund the purchase of police body cameras if the community so desires, including a public hearing on May 26. The board will also hold a public hearing specifically on the issue of police body cameras during our next public hearing on March 24. As usual, we want and need the community's input. Community members who are unable to attend upcoming board meetings, please e-mail your thoughts to the board at and copy the town clerk at

Thank you for your comment, Damon. You have very graciously spent quite a bit of your time addressing the points being raised by this one citizen. We may not always agree. But I think, on this particular issue, we are both driven by a desire to see the very best relationship created between our police and our community, based upon mutual respect.

The thing is that the common focal denominator in such situations is almost always the people who are not happy. And, especially in this instance, I think that happiness can only be achieved if what they regard as redress is presented simply and coherently.

This is not about what I think is best, but what is likely to work best for those with grievance. And I think what is likely to work best is a single point of reference. Not a single event, necessarily. But a singular process.

It appears that you agree that it is the Carrboro Board of Aldermen which has ultimate authority to make policy for the Carrboro police. That is a huge first step.

It appears that you agree it is desirous to be making that policy jointly with the police and citizens. You invite input from the public.

But, at that point, the process seems to dissipate, rather than coalesce. With respect.

We have a public hearing here. Another one there. Still a community forum in June. Which I thought was to be the starting focal point for a methodical approach to policing policy review and design. Meanwhile, a list of about 15 action items, to be reported back - where?

I am delighted there is interest. But I wonder if those with concerns might not now be better served with an injection of coherence. Something like this:

1) A simple, bald declaration from the Board of Aldermen that they are primarily responsible for making policing policy in Carrboro.

2) An equally bald declaration that the Board will be reviewing and designing such policy jointly and consensually with police and interested citizens.

3) That there will be a singular, coherent process for such review and design - be it a series of formal forums, regular meetings of a new Board Sub-Committee, or Board Advisory Commission, whatever - some single point of reference, to which everything reports back, and which is a transparent beacon to those with grievance.

4) As a first step, posting all existing policing policies online.

5) Then, instituting a process, under the aegis of the single point of reference, for reviewing, improving, designing and monitoring compliance with policing policy.

I'm not trying to rush ahead, merely wondering about bringing coherence to what is already happening - and maybe give it a nudge.

Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils has very kindly notified me elsewhere that the second Carrboro policing community forum will be held on June 29. I want to urge as many Carrboro residents as possible to attend.

I have written the following e-mail to Carrboro Police Chief, Walter Horton, and to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, to follow up on the points I have been making since the first Carrboro policing community forum, not least about citizen design of policing:

"Dear Chief Horton and Carrboro Board of Aldermen,

Damon has very kindly notified me that the second Carrboro policing community forum will be held on June 29. On this occasion, with this much notice (many thanks!), I will be able to be in attendance.

I hope that steps will be taken widely to advertise this forum, especially among those who might feel that the subject of policing in Carrboro is of especial interest to them. For example, I know that the NC ACLU have been interested. As have the Chapel Hill NAACP, Orange County Justice United. And, as I suspect, will the residents of the various Carrboro apartment complexes, where residents have complained about police profiling. I would hope that contact could also be made with the various organizations working on behalf of the Hispanic communities in Carrboro. Finally, I would hope that, along with Chief Horton, there will be other representatives of the Carrboro Police present. My interest is unashamedly citizen design of policing. An essential element of the process is that it is consensual, so that all of the people involved - police, elected officials and concerned citizens - are comfortable with the manner in which policing policy is being designed.

Now, I am just one citizen. I'm no-one special. I expect no special favors. But, I am concerned. I have a voice. And I speak out. I have said it before. And I will repeat it now. My interest in exploring a new process for designing policing policy and approach in Carrboro is not necessarily because Carrboro is a hotbed of confrontation between police and citizen. It isn't. But, as citizens, we have an obligation not just to our own hometown, but also to our nation. And too many of the cities of our nation are burning because the relationship between police and citizen has broken down. I believe we have a responsibility to attempt to build a better model of policing policy design here in Carrboro, so that it may serve as a template for avoiding further violence in those other communities.

In this regard, I believe a good place to start would be to make the agenda for the upcoming policing community forum a consensual one. Not just show 'n tell for the police and the Board. By all means, let's have items at the beginning, where police and the Board can report on what they have been doing. But let's make those items brief, maybe?

I would like to hear what other bodies have been doing, not least the NAACP, with their internal discussions on a civilian review board. Then, I would like specifically to move onto citizen design of policing. I think it only fair to give you notice that I will be pushing for the following at this upcoming meeting:

1) A simple, bald declaration from the Board of Aldermen and Chief Horton that it is the Board which is primarily responsible for making policing policy in Carrboro.

2) An equally bald declaration that, henceforth, the Board will be reviewing and designing such policy jointly and consensually with police and interested citizens.

3) That there will be a singular, coherent process for such review and design - be it a series of formal forums, regular meetings of a new Board Sub-Committee, or Board Advisory Commission, whatever - some single point of reference, to which everything reports back, and which is a transparent beacon to those with grievance.

4) As a first step, posting all existing policing policies online.

5) Then, instituting a process, under the aegis of the single point of reference, for reviewing, improving, designing and monitoring compliance with policing policy, such that it is a joint exercise between police, elected officials and concerned citizens.

I look forward to a response, addressing the above points substantively. And I look forward to the community forum. Where I will be pushing for all that I state above. If the gathered meeting makes it clear that they prefer that I do not, then that will be for them.

The events in Baltimore this week make clear that there is no longer any more time to waste in all of us taking responsibility for the breakdown of trust between police and citizen in our country, and all of us doing what we can with expedition. However much of a cultural shock it may be to some of us.

I will be posting this e-mail widely.

Many thanks,
Geoff Gilson"

See you all on June 29. Spread the word ...

I have heard from Damon Seils, who is one of the Carrboro Aldermen taking an especial interest in this subject. I have no compunction about publishing our exchange. As I understand it, all correspondence with Aldermen is in the public domain in any event:


Thanks for your note. I'm glad you'll be able to attend the next forum, and I trust you'll help spread the word to others.

I need to finish preparing for tonight's public hearing, but I do want to respond briefly to the starting point you suggested in your message. I'm sorry you were unable to attend the previous community forum. If you had been present, you would have experienced something that would be difficult to describe as "just show 'n tell for the police and the Board." As I described when we met in January, the forum was almost entirely driven by the participation of the people who attended, and it was the priorities they expressed during the forum that shaped the to-do list that the town staff and the Board of Aldermen subsequently adopted. I expect a similarly robust participation of community members will be evident in the next forum, too.

I'm always to happy to get together and continue the conversation, if you're interested. Certainly I'll see you in June.

Until then,

I responded:

"Many thanks for this, Damon. I will indeed be spreading the word. I think we had a very good conversation in January. But I think the time is now right for designing to be in group and in public. I still look forward to a substantive response about agenda, when you have a moment. While I too want to encourage as much response from the public as possible, I think it is also time that there be some direction to the public conversation. If the public do not want their conversation directed, they will say so. And I know that you and I will listen. But, subject to that, I will be pushing unashamedly and vigorously for some demonstrable movement in the forum towards a process of citizen design of policing. A process, where design is actually taking place, there is report back on progress, and all participants understand that the 'process' is not merely input, it is actual design and monitoring of that design. Otherwise, whether driven by the public or not, it is merely sideshow.

All the best,

There will be more. We make progress.

Yup. Was on Chapel Hill, NC Talk Station WCHL’s ‘Commentators’ this past Wednesday morning. This time inviting all and sundry to the second Carrboro, NC Policing Community Forum, being held on June 29, with Carrboro Chief of Police, Walter Horton, and sponsored by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.

You can listen here, or read the text below:

“There comes a time when even the most ardent supporter of law enforcement has to admit there is no longer distinction between law breaker and law enforcer. Both claim to be in the right. And both claim to be protecting citizens. It is my view that point has been reached. Not just in Baltimore. But in America as a whole.

That is not to say that law enforcement in every community in our nation has broken down. It is saying that law enforcement has become so critical in enough of our communities that all communities have become responsible for finding a solution.

I have proposed what might well be part of a solution with the concept (really not that original) of citizen design of policing.

I have had communication with Aldermen and certain activists in Carrboro about gently exploring implementation of that concept. Not because Carrboro is a hotbed of confrontation between citizen and police, but precisely because it is not.

I had hoped that there would be time to allow us to move that concept forward on a step-by-step basis. That time is no longer available. The streets of our nation are burning now. It is no good saying, but the problem is not here, let’s move slowly. The problem may not be here. Now. But if we do not become active, and aggressively active, in finding a solution now, then we have become a part of the problem, too.

The next step is for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen to host a second policing community forum with the Carrboro Chief of Police on June 29. I will be writing this week to the Board specifically to request that we put the concept of citizen design of policing prominently on the agenda.

So that we are clear, I will be asking at that meeting that we firmly decide in principle – police, elected officials and concerned citizenry – to establish, with speed and vigor, a working model in Carrboro, where it is no longer the police alone who design their rules of engagement with the citizenry, but the elected officials, at open meetings, where citizenry may be engaged. That is citizen design of policing.

I truly believe that it is only by building a template of citizen-designed policing here in Carrboro, where policing is truly designed and monitored by the citizenry, that we can provide to other communities a model which will prevent further violence between communities and those they trust to maintain order and regulate behavior – not just the behavior of the citizenry at large, but the behavior of the police themselves.

Please note the date. June 29. Policing community forum in Carrboro.”

I think I’m going to give notice here that I’m going to pick up on a suggestion that was mooted by someone else when I wrote earlier about this second Policing Community Forum. And that is that, if this second Forum is held in the safe confines of the Carrboro Town Hall, with safe progressive people present, in the spirit of citizen design, so that everyone (including the police) truly understand what citizen design means, I’m going to ask the meeting if they would like to ask all attending police officers to remove their weapons, for the duration of the Forum.

There is no point pretending we are beginning a process of citizen design, where everyone accepts that successful policing takes place only with the consent of the citizenry, if citizenry can’t even get their sensible way at the first opportunity. Notice given.

I did write to Walter and to the Board of Aldermen, with suggestions for a consensual citizen’s agenda for the Forum. I’ll let you all know what was the substantive response, as soon as I get one.

Please make space in your diary. This is one of the most important issues facing our nation. And Carrboro and its citizens have a role to play.

In the meantime, I also wrote a response to the article about body cameras, appearing in this week's Independent. My article is less about body cameras, and more about what citizen design might achieve, and what it most definitely will not. See you all on June 29!

Yes, folks. After six months of waiting, it is finally here. The Second Carrboro Community Forum on Policing, being hosted by the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and Chief of Police, Walter Horton, this coming Monday, at the Carrboro Town Hall, beginning at 7.00pm.

I will, at that forum, be proposing that Carrboro adopt the concept of 'citizen design of policing.' Ok. By the stages. What is citizen design of policing?

Very simple. It arises from the belief that, even if your own community is an oasis of calm, there are communities in this country where there is deep distrust between police and those they are policing. The notion is that the distrust might end if it is citizens who design policing methods, not police on their own.

How does this work. Again, very simple. People forget that police are employees of the agency funding them. You demand of the elected officials of that funding agency that they start to take the lead in designing policing policy, not leaving it to the police themselves. And you make the design process open and transparent and totally accessible to concerned citizens, so that aggrieved citizens have the opportunity, not merely to complain, but to design away those aspects of policing they do not like.

Will it work. Who knows? What I do know is that it won't even get a chance if you don't turn up.

Why Carrboro? Not because it is a hotbed of tension. Precisely because it is not - even if there are some difficulties. Better to implement and test the process in a small, friendly community, so that it can then be available for those larger communities more at risk.

But once again, we can't design that template if you don't turn up. As some of you may know, I have been trying to lay the groundwork these past several months, by advocating, blogging, explaining and meeting with Carrboro Aldermen and other concerned groups. I have now followed up with an e-mail dealing with the logistical nitty-gritty of next Monday. Tucked away in that e-mail, you will also find useful links to all that groundwork, explaining, advocacy, etc., for more background information:

"Dear Carrboro Board of Aldermen and Chief Horton,

I do not think I need to re-canvass here what is citizen design of policing, and why I think it is urgent that we move towards such a concept with our policing in Carrboro, not just for Carrboro, but as a part of our nation, where there is considerable tension between the police and community, even if that tension does not exist in our community. You can remind yourself of a summary of my thinking with this link:

I have discussed, both in meeting and on blogs, how I think this concept might look in its beginning stages:

The purpose of this e-mail is to get down to the nitty-gritty of the second Carrboro community forum on policing next Monday itself. And I think I am not alone in believing that the meeting next Monday should be the beginning of a process. Not a stand-alone event.

I am one person. Owed no particular favors. I have some thoughts. So do other people. But I would hope that the meeting is not too taken up merely with reporting by the Board and the Police Chief. I think folks want interactive involvement.

I would like to suggest the outlines of a working, citizen-oriented agenda. We have brief reports from the Police Chief and the Board on what they have been doing since the first Carrboro community forum on policing. You then invite groups which have been taking an interest to report, also briefly. I know that the local NAACP and Orange County Justice United have certainly been holding meetings. Perhaps get a sense of who else might want to report when those present confirm the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. After that, open the floor. And let those present drive the meeting.

I certainly will wish to have citizen design of policing on the agenda. I have a motion I wish to propose, and will be open to answering questions on the concept and how I see it working.

The final point is that I think it would be useful to have an item at the end of the agenda where the meeting determines what happens next. Once again, my sense is that people want an ongoing process. I think it would be useful if the meeting was given a chance to set a time period for what happens next, when another such meeting should be held, and so on. How we might want future meetings and process to be different. If there is anything specific we might want on the agenda, so that folks have a chance to prepare. And if there are any side issues people might want to be researching or undertaking.

I am happy either for you to propose something like this, or I can propose it from the floor at the start of the meeting.

The motion I will be proposing is s follows:

"This meeting of concerned Carrboro citizens believes that, henceforth, policing policy in Carrboro should be designed by the elected officials of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, in conjunction with the Carrboro Police Department, and that such design should take place in an open and transparent manner, involving those concerned Carrboro citizens who wish to participate."

It may well be that some folks will want some idea of how I think citizen design might work in its first steps. I refer to that in the second link above. I also set out some thoughts about what I personally might want citizen design to address early on, in this link:

There is one last link which includes some thinking about citizen design, just to round out the information (!):

I look forward to the meeting next /monday, and the beginning of a process which I hope may serve as a successful template for other, more troubled communities in our nation.

All the best,

The Second Carrboro Community Forum on Policing was a success. There. That was the easy part. Now, for the messier part. It was a success because a lot of very different views were expressed. People went away frustrated, anxious and despondent because there was next to no meeting of minds. But they were all determined to come back and continue the process. That was the success.

Anyone who wanted a quick fix was thwarted by the complexity of the human condition. That’s life. And that is precisely why we need to undertake this process here in Carrboro. To build a model that improves the relationship between police and the community going forward. Both in Carrboro, and for America.

It is always difficult to concern oneself with designing a process that appears to deal with apocalypse, when the worst-case scenario isn’t knocking at the door. You plan for doom when the sun is shining. That is the nature of good planning. But it is a tad surreal. And so it was last evening.

This is also why it is terribly important for people to turn up and to stick with the process. And there were too many people who have been loud on this subject who were absent last night. Folks, change takes time and hard work. Not the occasional rant on Facebook.

Now to specifics. I’m not going to try to offer minutes of the evening. But rather, a very personal commentary upon the different points of view I heard expressed.

First, I was very encouraged that no less than six police officers attended, and almost all contributed. This is good.

It is my opinion, as expressed last evening, that, once all the initial posturing is over, and that posturing may take several more meetings to find satisfactory expression, once it is sated, on all sides, these forums, if, as I hope, they become the focus of the discussion on policing in Carrboro, then they will turn to meaningful review and design of policing policy.

That review and design will only be meaningful if it is an equal and respectful conversation between police, elected officials from their funding agency (the Board of Aldermen) and concerned citizens. And that conversation will only be meaningful if it includes an articulate police presence.

The Carrboro police, if last night was an indication, are worried. And defensive. Not unlike many good police departments across the nation, they feel offended that the years of training and experience and good policing that they feel they can evidence is not immediately, honestly and fully acknowledged and supported.

Police Chief Walter Horton at one point asked, rather plaintively, if there was anyone who could explain what his department had done so wrong as to warrant such close and critical examination. When it came my turn to speak, I answered: nothing. That isn’t the point.

The point is that we are all one bullet away from a Ferguson. That this process is not just about Carrboro. It is about building a model in a reasonably successful borough, where the relationship between police and policed is reasonably healthy. Such that the model can provide a precedent for those communities around the nation where there is tension between the police and the policed. While improving the relationship in Carrboro itself.

That, whatever the reason, the improving of that relationship is predicated on the view that, over the years, police and community have become separated. That the police have begun to feel that they are an authority unto themselves. And that, even if, for the most part, that works for now, it is not the model upon which policing was originally predicated.

Namely that the police undertake their mission on behalf of society only with the consent of the people. That in many parts of this country, that consent has been withdrawn, for good reason. That even in Carrboro, there are sections within the community who feel their consent tempered. That this requires an analysis and perhaps a reconstruction of the social compact between police and policed. And the first step is to re-iterate the subordination of police to the citizenry. A step which necessarily might grate with many police officers, who have acted without review for so long.

Do we say, tough, suck it up? No. That would be the response of an irresponsible and ungrateful community. We stick to our guns. But with magnanimity to accompany the firmness. And demonstrate understanding that it will take time for the police to learn to trust those civilians who would wish to exercise control over the police.

There were some last evening who wondered why there was this all-fired interest to have civilians become involved in designing police policy? How on earth could civilians possibly know what was involved in proper policing?

My input was this: as a community, we ask certain of our citizens to take on an onerous and dangerous task that I would not choose to undertake. To protect us. To enforce our laws. To maintain the order we demand. They have my respect for the job they do.

But it is a job. They are employees of a government department. Beholden to elected officials. Who are the servants of the public. Who are the bosses of all police officers. The police perform a service on behalf of the people they perform it upon. Those people are entitled to set the rules. And they need no specialized knowledge beyond knowing how they want to be policed. Period.

Why should citizens design the policy for the police department when they seek no interest in doing so for transport departments or the fire service, as one lady anxiously asked last evening? Because those folks do not have the right to put me in handcuffs or to shoot me. That’s why.

Do I want my police to be any less trained? No. Any less dedicated? No. Any the less interested in treating their career as a vocation, not just a wage? Heck no. But. At the end of the day. The police have each chosen to dedicate themselves to a profession which, ultimately, exists only if the public say so.

The public have become concerned. They are quite rightfully trying to find a way to overcome their concern. They are attempting to do so in conjunction with the police. But the police do not have a veto. Excellence in training and years of service will not of themselves serve as remedy, although they are a prerequisite for execution of the remedy. And Coffee Time With Constabulary is not the answer.

Chief Horton expressed concern that this new complex interactive approach to policing will require more personnel and resources. Yes it will. And those who demand the new policing approach are going to have to expect their taxes to rise. Period.

But it will require something much more. It will require a sea change in culture. Among police officers. And among those in the community who are currently expressing concern. For when this conversation has advanced. When there is truly a process where all can participate in designing and monitoring the police approach, then those who have expressed concern will need to step up and become active partners with the police in advocating for full respect for those the community have asked to enforce the law.

I raised this in conversation with two police officers after the meeting. It was nigh on impossible for every single speaker to express all their concerns in several minutes of input. Myself included.

All they likely heard from me was: blah, blah, police on a leash. I wanted to share with them my vision for several years down the road. When police officers, attending in civvies, would sit around a table with citizens and elected officials, and in a relaxed fashion, tweak this or that policy.

Where the police would no longer be required to defend their position. Where civilian members of a process demonstrably responsible for police policy design, performance and review would step up and take the flack for any consequences of police faithfully following policies designed by civilians in the main.

This I said was the pay-off for police of the renewed social compact between police and policed: the community would be comfortable with their police, and the police would be protected by their community.

Not sure those officers saw my vision. Not surprising. Again, this will take years of unraveling of current misconceptions to achieve.

Most probably, those officers did not see the vision as clearly as I do because of the experience of many in the audience last evening maintaining that the primary problem with policing, in Carrboro and elsewhere, is racism.

I do not denigrate their stance. I can not minimize their experience. For it is not mine. It is theirs. Maybe seminar after seminar on implicit bias will help. Maybe rigorous training will make things better. But I have a concern. It is mine. It may provoke an antipathetic reaction. So be it.

We engage police to police. Not to be agents of socio-economic change. I want us to reach a point where there are clear rules of engagement. With all citizens. On an equal basis. I hold the very firm view that, if there are clear rules, laid down by citizens, for interaction with citizens, if those rules are enforced, then ultimately, the color of the other participant becomes moot.

Does this mean that there are not police officers with an unacceptable attitude? No. But with civilians taking the prime role in designing and monitoring, it means that the behavior resulting from that attitude can be reviewed and disciplined. The focus is on the behavior not the attitude.

Does this preclude relying on a police officer’s discretion? No. Just as you can not legislate a person’s feelings or attitude, you can not design a rule for every last second of interaction. You have to rely on a police officer’s discretion ultimately.

When, asked a police officer of me last evening, when do/will the public allow discretion? When we trust you again, came my response. When will that be? When we know you better. Really? Really.

But there is a flip side to this. And it needs to be addressed. There were folks at the forum last evening with reams of data relating to race. I may have used a cuss word in front of a police officer when describing data after the meeting.

We can set up conversation. We can design rules. We can implement review and monitoring. We can increase resources for improved policing up the wazoo. But nothing we do with police can change socio-economic reality. And we can not, absolutely can not ask police officers to demonstrate differing policing approaches to similar situations simply because they perceive a different socio-economic group standing in front of them. Down that path lies chaos.

We can only ask our police officers to follow the rules we have written, without any special favor being shown to anyone. That is how you make policing color-blind.

We can have, and should have, lengthy discussions about income disparity. How whites are richer. And blacks are poorer. How rich whites can do things away from the gaze of police, because they have a large house in five acres of ground. How poorer folks have to undertake the same activity, in full sight of passing police officers, on the balcony of their small apartment, in a low income neighborhood. How this likely leads to a higher reported rate of crime in low income as opposed to high income neighborhoods. How this sucks. How this likely leads to a situation where police, targeting areas of perceived high rates of reported crime, may end up spending more time in areas of low income, which exacerbates the problem of high rates of reported crime and arrest in those low income neighborhoods.

Should there be a discussion about policing in low income neighborhoods? Yes. Should it lead to a change in police tactics? That is a matter for democratic decision, which democratic decision I will not pre-empt. But we can not currently expect our police to exercise that judgment. That’s not fair. And again, it is why we need this process. Civilians enact the policy. In conjunction with the police. So that the police can confirm the policy is enforceable. At which point, it is the community which takes the flack for enforcing the policy, not the police. Subject to that community having the proactive right to monitor and discipline police for misbehavior and breach of the agreed policy. And all community leaders will need to be prepared to support the police in enforcing a policy those community leaders have had a hand in effecting.

And that means those same community leaders, all of us, turning around and making quite clear that everyone in the community obeys the law, everyone in the community respects the manner of enforcement of the law, when the manner of that enforcement has been designed by the community.

No more screaming at police officers in parking lots. If you have a legitimate beef, and there is a legitimate community forum for policing design, calmly bring your beef to the forum. This process is not and can not be an excuse for people to break the law. And it can not be an agent for socio-economic change, or a shield for the inadequacies of socio-economic inequities. Those are matters for a different forum.

Phew. Yes. It was that kind of meeting last night!

We ended the evening with discussion of next steps. I wanted to make sure that we didn’t just disintegrate into never-ending chit-chat. I wanted there to be progress. That requires purpose. I proposed my motion to give context to that purpose. It was non-binding. We were running out of time. Folks were exhausted. But they listened. They heard. And there was a vote of sorts. And it didn’t fail:

""This meeting of concerned Carrboro citizens believes that, henceforth, policing policy in Carrboro should be designed by the elected officials of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, in conjunction with the Carrboro Police Department, and that such design should take place in an open and transparent manner, involving those concerned Carrboro citizens who wish to participate."

Which is not to say it passed overwhelmingly. But that it made people think. We will revisit regularly. Meanwhile some people wanted to get more specific, and spoke of a civilian oversight board. I have a problem with that, on two counts.

We are at an early stage. I think we want a conversation to develop into a process, before we discuss specific structure. My motion stands. It had more support than detraction. I will keep it in front of people as an ambition. Let’s see where it goes.

Secondly, existing civilian oversight boards have a specific profile which is not what I think the current situation requires. I do not want a disciplinary board. Or an advisory board. Or a reactive board. I want police, elected officials and citizens to meet regularly, proactively to design what police can and will do. I think that is how you avoid bad interaction. Not by reviewing it afterwards.

Bottom line? It would have been wonderful if, at one meeting, all the various hundreds of individual interactions between police and citizens over the years could have found instant satisfaction in one expression of common interest in one motion. But that isn’t how complex human interaction works.

What we have at the moment is the apparent willingness of citizens (including the police) to sit down with each other, and talk, and explore. It will take time for the very different outlooks and experiences in that gathering to feel that they have fully expressed their concerns, feel that they have been understood, and then feel confident enough to reach out and see someone else’s point of view.

Only at that point will the gatherings evolve into meaningful conversation. And from there, into a stumbling, entwined, messy advance into some sort of coherent consensual process for designing and monitoring policing policy, that offers support to the police, and comfort to those policed.

People. This is going to take time. What it needs more than time is your active participation. I spoke with a couple of Aldermen after the forum. We will be meeting to discuss how to keep things moving along. I am especially concerned, as I mentioned at the forum itself, that these forums are held more regularly, and that they become the focal point for citizen review of policing in Carrboro, for open discussion between police, elected officials and citizens, and ultimately the primary platform for policing design and monitoring. I will be raising all this in those meetings. And I will be letting everyone know about those meetings, because I remain dedicated to keeping this process – all of it – open, transparent and accessible.

The third Carrboro, NC Community Forum on Policing will be held on Wednesday, October 28. I am assuming it will be at the Carrboro Town Hall, beginning at 7.00pm, as were the previous two. So, get out your calendars, contact your managers to get the time to attend.

Just to remind you what the Forums are about, and what I am hoping to achieve with my advocacy of Citizen Design of Policing, here is a link.

I wrote to Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils as follows:

“Many thanks, Damon. Again, I’ll give a little nudge to you, to give a little nudge to others to get it set, say, at least a month before, so that NAACP and others can do the best/have enough time to organize the young and at risk (young families) to arrange schedules, babysitters, whatever, so as to be able to attend.

I’m thinking about attendance. I’m sure you have, but maybe again, talk with the likes of el Futuro, NAACP, to see what it is that keeps Hispanics, young, blacks from wanting to attend. Maybe not this time, maybe in the future, maybe we should be taking these meetings into neighborhoods? Rotate. The various apartment complexes have community rooms. El Futuro? Churches they attend. Places they feel safe. And this next one maybe even further down the road. Exploring the possibility that the police attend in civvies. Less them, more us? Just thoughts.”

Damon responded favorably. But it is now up to all of us to do what we can to encourage those who feel most uncomfortable with policing to feel comfortable about coming to this meeting, or to find ways in which they would be comfortable discussing their discomfort. Which is one of the most awkward-sounding sentences I’ve ever composed! But you know what I mean.

Spread the word. See you all on the 28th!

Just heard from Damon Seils, via Chief Horton, that the third Carrboro Community Forum on Policing will, in fact, on this occasion, be held in the OWASA community room. Beginning at 7.00pm, on Wednesday, October 28th. See you there!

Just to keep y'all in touch. I have been told by Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils that the 3rd Carrboro Community Forum on Policing, due to be held this evening (October 28), has been postponed, until probably the middle of this December. Updates will follow ...


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