The Chapel Hill and Carrboro police departments have scheduled question-and-answer sessions for residents about policing tactics and equipment.
The sessions come two months after a police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., resulted in several nights of riots and protests and questions about the police response. The use of military-surplus equipment, including armored vehicles, drew attention to a federal program that provides such equipment to local law enforcement agencies.
The Chapel Hill police forum, next Saturday, specifically will address resident concerns about the police department’s participation in the federal Law Enforcement Support Services program. In announcing the forum, town officials acknowledged that “some Chapel Hill residents have questioned why police departments need the kinds of equipment that seems more fitting for a military setting.”
Critics of the LESS program focused on the use of military-grade weaponry such as assault rifles, body armor and armored vehicles by police and sheriff’s departments. The images of heavily armed police officers facing protesters in Ferguson prompted President Barack Obama to order a review of the program.
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And in June, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” that criticized the “militarization” of police departments across the country that it said disproportionately targets people of color and views them as the enemy.
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue will answer questions about his department’s military-surplus equipment and have some on hand to show residents at next week’s forum.
“While we hope we never have to use these tools,” spokesman Bryan Walker said in a statement, “they can save lives in the event of situations such as school/workplace shootings, hostage situations or large scale crowd events that go wrong.”
The Carrboro forum, scheduled for Oct. 6, has a broader focus on helping residents “gain insights into Carrboro’s current approaches to policing.” It also invites residents to suggest ideas “for how policing here can best reflect Carrboro’s values.”
The forum will include Police Chief Walter Horton, Town Manager David Andrews, members of the Board of Aldermen and other town employees.