A crime analyst who reviewed Carrboro police vehicle stops, searches and arrests has found no major evidence of racially biased policing in the department.
Police Chief Walter Horton requested the review in response to local and national concerns about police tactics ranging from stop and frisk to use of force that critics say unfairly target minorities.
Analyst Sara Owens told the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night that the department has decided to de-emphazise regulatory stops, such as pulling over drivers for broken tail lights or expired tags.
“Those aren’t safety issues like driving 70 (mph) down Main Street,” she said.
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Owens said, overall, the rates at which black and white people in Carrboro are stopped for traffic infractions remained fairly constant over time, with two-thirds of stops involving white drivers and one-third involving black drivers.
Horton has instructed officers to get written permission before conducting consent searches, which occur when an officer lacks probable cause – belief that a crime has occurred – to search a house or vehicle, but may ask to do so anyway.
“Typically we feel like there should be a reason,” Owen said of the consent searches. “We have really de-emphasized these as a department. We think that that’s a good thing, because people shouldn’t be searching unless there’s a reason.”
As a result, consent searches have dropped dramatically, down to just seven in 2016.
The department has also instituted quarterly audits of each officer’s arrests and citations to check for racial bias, and plans mandatory implicit-bias training for all employees.
Board members asked for greater specificity in future reports, as the current model does not differentiate between ethnicity and race. That means data on Hispanic residents who encounter Carrboro police are lumped in with data on white residents.
Owens noted that some of the variables she sought to evaluate, including the incidence of arrest for resisting or obstructing arrest, lacked enough data points to generate statistically significant analysis.
“We aren’t having a lot of people run from Carrboro police,” she explained.
Horton said he would release the department’s full annual report in April.
Though it was not on the agenda, Alderwoman Jacquie Gist asked Horton to address recent reports of immigration checkpoints and raids in cities across the country, aimed at cracking down on undocumented residents.
Gist, who works at UNC, told Horton she’s heard fear and uncertainty from students on campus. She looked for reassurance that Carrboro officers are not involved in any immigration enforcement efforts.
“Somebody with a student visa or green card, they’re safe here?” asked Gist. “And you’re not being asked to go find people?”
“Immigration is not a priority to us, it never has been,” replied Horton. “I know with the new presidential administration, there’s a lot of concern, but again, it’s not a priority for us. I can’t tell you what will come out tomorrow or be tweeted tonight later by people, but all I can say is we’ll cross that bridge if we get there, and we’ll continue to do our job fairly and be representative of the Carrboro way, being inclusive and welcoming of everybody.”
In other business
The board received an abbreviated version of OWASA’s report detailing the recent water crisis involving an over-release of fluoride and a broken water main. OWASA Executive Director Ed Kerwin highlighted how local agencies collaborated to keep the public informed and to ensure access to adequate water supplies for any firefighting emergencies.
Board members commended OWASA officials for their quick response, but asked for more clear communication with the public, and to reexamine the benefits of fluoride in public drinking water.
The board also debated what to do with the Carrboro Vision 2020, a community visioning exercise completed in 2000. Board members say they want to come up with a comprehensive list of which goals have been achieved in the past 17 years before deciding when, or how, to update the plan. They’ll review the document piece by piece at future work sessions.