Earlier this week, area law enforcement agencies expressed our commitment to providing residents across Orange County with information about our equipment and policies. Upon receiving the news release, a reporter asked “Why are you doing this?”
The answer is simple, really. We work for you, and there are no secrets about our policing.
Trust in police is becoming a national conversation. No doubt, this is, in part, a result of recent events that have led to the images of protesters clashing with heavily armed police officers in Missouri. Some residents have questioned why police departments would need such defense-grade hardware. They have asked what equipment we use in Chapel Hill, and they’ve asked the same questions of other area law enforcement agencies.
In recognition of our community’s interest in understanding our work, a few years ago, the Police Department and the Community Policing Advisory Committee created a Community Police Academy model that allows any Chapel Hill resident to get an intense, informative, and most importantly, fun orientation to our department’s work in about eight hours. One of the comments is indicative of the feedback we’ve received from graduates:
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“I had no real opinion (positive or negative) about the Chapel Hill Police Department before attending the academy, but now my level of trust and esteem for them is very high. When I encounter them in the community I feel I will have a much better understanding of what they are trying to accomplish.”
In this same spirit, we are planning a series of forums focused on answering questions from the community. Dates and locations will be released soon. The Police Department and other agencies also are preparing reports on equipment, training and policies for our elected boards.
And speaking of equipment, some have asked about our ownership of an armored vehicle and other heavy equipment. While we hope we never have to use these tools, they can save lives in the event of situations such as school/workplace shootings, hostage situations or large crowd events that go wrong. Chapel Hill may be a small community, but we are regularly tasked with managing crowd events on a grand scale.
After the Tar Heels’ NCAA victories in 2005 and 2009, fans exploded out of restaurants and bars, dormitories and the Dean Smith Center. As television choppers swirled overhead, students built small bonfires in the street. At the peak of the evening, the crowds were estimated at 30,000 to 40,000. Another large crowd event that we’re all familiar with is Halloween on Franklin Street, which attracted as many as 80,000 people in 2007 before the town launched a campaign to alter the size and character of the event. Such an enormous number of people confined in a congested half-mile stretch of Franklin Street present a number of public safety concerns. While most of these events are celebratory and without incident, we must plan for the chance when things go terribly wrong. As your Police Chief, it is my responsibility to you to equip, train, and prepare your police officers to respond to the worst situations imaginable.
In Chapel Hill, much like our neighboring jurisdictions, we practice a policing philosophy that emphasizes outreach, partnerships and community collaboration. The Community Policing Advisory Committee, composed of citizens whose primary charge is to enhance community and police relations, provides a regular forum for us to hear about expectations of our police department.
We take our duty to the taxpayers seriously. We are here to serve and answer to you. Together with my law enforcement colleagues at Carrboro, Hillsborough and Orange County, I am committed to hearing any suggestions and ideas that would benefit the community. I’ll look forward to seeing you at one of the upcoming forums.
Chris Blue is Chapel Hill’s police chief.