When Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown announced her recent series of community forums, she said she wanted to build relationships and enlighten and empower the community. I support the chief’s efforts to ask for insight. When you ask, communities tend to know what is wrong and how to address it.
At two forums, I welcomed the opportunity to exchange ideas and concerns with dozens of officers and neighborhood leaders. It was enlightening. But empowering? Not yet.
At the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, Deck-Brown promised to prepare a public report on the forums. I hope that’s where she’ll meet her empowerment objective. Deck-Brown’s report must be an honest reflection of the concerns and suggestions made by city residents, but, for it to be empowering, it also must commit to a timeline to address those concerns and implement the best ideas.
At my table, there was a great mix of voices: three interested citizens, one victim’s advocate, two active officers and a member of the City Council. One participant suggested that police sponsor “barbershop chats,” in a setting frequented by many young African-American men, to build relationships and understanding.
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I suggested that we consider creating a community oversight board as other cities have done and give it the ability to investigate and discipline police when something goes wrong. I’m concerned that complaints now are filed with, investigated by and decided on by an Internal Affairs division within the department. With a system like that, I’m uncomfortable filing a complaint and apprehensive that investigators would have the distance to fulfill this important responsibility.
After the table conversations, the chief spoke. Her remarks focused on the good work of the Raleigh Police Department. But the concerns raised throughout the evening – the perceived and real racial disparities in policing, the relationship of the department with federal immigration, the lack of body cameras in the city – point to deeper issues that cannot be addressed with a dialogue. It’ll require community partnership to implement policy changes like the steps the Greensboro, Fayetteville and Durham police departments have taken.
In Fayetteville and Durham, police officers are required to inform individuals of their right to refuse a consent search using a standard form. Fayetteville has also committed to not stopping drivers for violations that don’t endanger the public, such as an expired license plate. Limiting patrolling for these types of regulatory infractions has been shown to decrease the likelihood of racial profiling.
A young black person is stopped two blocks from his home for “looking suspicious” and feels harassed by the police. It’s a consistent story when talking to young men of color in my community. A meaningful report from the chief would validate these experiences and those of many others shared at these meetings and include a public commitment and a timeline for how her department will systemically address each concern.
Last month, The News & Observer reported the launch of OpenDataPolicingNC.com, which makes available stop and search data dating to 2000. A New York Times analysis of the data showed that in Raleigh, a black driver is 2.7 times more likely to be searched than a white driver. All of us should use this data to bolster our assessment of equitable policing in our city.
That would be empowering.
Emma Akpan is a community activist in Raleigh.