The Town Council unanimously approved a plan Monday for addressing community concerns about racial bias in policing.
The council also asked the Chapel Hill Police Department to report each year on progress toward the plan’s goals and to study challenges facing undocumented immigrants who are charged for driving without a license. Those drivers, who are not eligible to get a license, end up paying hundreds in fines and court costs.
Both issues are part of a continuing conversation with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the community, Police Chief Chris Blue said.
The town’s Justice in Action and Community Policing Advisory committees helped craft the anti-bias plan, he said, in response to the Orange County Bias-Free Policing Coalition’s 2015 petition. The letter suggested 11 steps for reducing racial bias and building trust.
Council member Nancy Oates, a liasion to both committees, said it’s been educational to hear other people’s experiences.
“I know, for me, as a middle-class, middle-age, white woman, it’s very easy for me to say the police are doing a great job. I want to make sure that everybody in town can feel that same way, and that’s what I hear from both committees, is they want everybody in town to feel that same way,” she said.
More meaningful citizen input will enhance trust in police, said James Williams, the county’s chief public defender and a coalition member. It’s also important that town leaders help build a lasting structure, he said.
“I was impressed by both (Blue’s) willingness to learn more, to grapple with this difficult issue of race and policing, and to try to come up with solutions within his own department, but I also knew that Chief Blue – just like a mayor, just like a council member – can transition out,” he said.
Justice In Action committee member Mani Dexter agreed more citizen input could promote greater transparency and community input, but she also suggested more openness in investigating and resolving police misconduct allegations.
Blue offered 11 steps, some of which have been implemented, such as racial equity training for officers and in-car dash cameras. Others, such as equipping officers with body cameras and making marijuana less of a priority, are in progress, he said.
A pilot body camera program could start soon, he said. Other expected changes include collecting data about who gets a warning and who is charged for same crimes, and less focus on traffic stops for regulatory or equipment issues.
Police are driving the debate, but racial bias isn’t just a police problem, said Ty Hunter, a member of the coalition and the policing committee.
“I think the most important thing is for the council to be engaged in this and for the public to be engaged and to stay engaged, for this to be an important issue, not when something terrible happens that we have to deal with, but let’s deal with it now so that nothing terrible ever happens,” Hunter said.
That idea can be applied more widely, Council member Donna Bell said.
“I hope that we can use this particular crisis that we currently have around policing to think about social equity and bias in a larger way in what we do,” she said. “That is not in any way, shape or form to minimize the work that’s been done on this particular issue, but to also use this as an opportunity to help us think about how we want to continue to spread this idea of creating more social equity in a lot of the areas of what we do.”
Police Chief Chris Blue’s plan for addressing racial bias:
▪ Identify and change existing policies to reduce the impact of race
▪ Adopt written policies prohibiting racial profiling
▪ Quarterly review of stop, search and arrest data; analyze and respond to officer activities and arrests
▪ Make written consent to search forms mandatory
▪ Prohibit stops and searches based on “nervousness,” “presence in a high-crime neighborhood,” or “criminal record”
▪ Require dashboard and body cameras
▪ Make marijuana a low-level priority
▪ Make quarterly race reports and presentations to council
▪ Require racial equity training for all officers
▪ Work to increase public confidence in police misconduct investigations and outcomes
▪ More civilian involvement in decision-making