Orange County

August 26, 2014

Orange County forces plan response to ACLU report on police militarization

Orange County’s law enforcement agencies are banding together to target local concerns about military equipment, training and policies through a series of public forums and September reports.

Orange County’s law enforcement agencies are banding together to respond to local concerns about military equipment, training and policies.

Carrboro and Chapel Hill officials are finalizing several question-and-answer forums. Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said more information will be released as it becomes available.

The local effort follows an American Civil Liberties Union report this summer and the police response to protesters in Ferguson, Mo., that have spotlighted the role that surplus military gear, particularly armored vehicles, plays in local law enforcement efforts.

The Obama administration also is reviewing Department of Defense surplus programs for their appropriateness, how they train local agencies to use the equipment and how well the department tracks money and equipment provided through the programs.

More than 17,000 agencies participate in the 1033 Program, one of several federal surplus programs. In 2013, the 1033 program provided agencies with nearly $450 million in military equipment, the ACLU reported.

Shared philosophy

Orange County’s law enforcement agencies “share a policing philosophy that emphasizes outreach, partnerships and community collaboration,” a news release said Tuesday. Blue said local agencies are proud of their work but understand the community has high expectations.

“There are folks in our communities that have questions about how we respond,” he said. “Given some of the discussion about policing tactics and equipment, we thought it would be appropriate to speak to those concerns.”

Chapel Hill has an armored car – to keep officers and residents safe during hostage situations and other high-risk calls – but has never used it, Blue said. Neither Carrboro’s nor Hillsborough’s police departments reported having any armored vehicles, according to Tuesday’s news release.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has reported getting surplus military gear for more than 20 years. The ACLU’s 2014 report shows the department got a V150 armored personnel carrier in 2007 and used it once, to arrest an armed, barricaded suspect in a neighborhood.

The Sheriff’s Office most often bought pickup trucks, which roll out most often during inclement weather to help county staff get around and residents with emergencies, according to the news release. The department also has two five-ton military trucks for removing downed trees from roads, it said.

Carrboro and Chapel Hill police will report to their elected boards about the use of military surplus equipment, training and policies. Carrboro police spokesman Lt. Chris Atack said it’s important to have that dialogue and also to balance community concerns with officer safety.

“I come to work every day knowing we have good people making good decisions,” Atack said.

Documenting those good decisions are an important part of community policing, local officials said. To that end, the Hillsborough Police Department equipped six patrol officers with body cameras last year to document evidence collection and investigate public complaints.

Police Chief Duane Hampton will update the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners about the program Sept. 8. He also will talk about the department’s revised policies, including when, how and how often officers can use force.

Carrboro and Chapel Hill could add body cameras in the next few years, officials said.

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