Chapel Hill and Carrboro Citizens' Police Forums

This coming Saturday (October 4) and next Monday (October 6), Chapel Hill Police and Carrboro Police respectively, along with representatives from their funding agencies, will be holding Public Forums, at which citizens will be invited to offer thoughts on the way they wish to be policed. I will be unable to attend the Carrboro Forum as I will be working. But I have written a letter to the organizers, a letter which is (amazingly) quite self-explanatory:

"Dear Carrboro Alderpeople, Chief Horton and David Andrews [Carrboro Town Manager],

I understand there is to be a Public Forum on Policing in Carrboro, held on October 6, at 7.00pm. I will not be able to attend, as much as I have expressed interest in this subject.

I am a shift worker, and like most shift workers, I need at least three weeks notice to be able to accommodate events to my work schedule.

I trust there will be further opportunities for citizens to offer input on the manner in which they are policed. And in this regard, I would ask that those organizing the opportunities for that input bear in mind that those who may consider themselves most likely at risk from the possibility of less-than-sensitive policing (the young, immigrants, minorities) are very likely those who also are shift workers. And are those who may not frequent, online or in person, the sorts of places that Alderpeople might think are the best places to serve notice of such opportunities.

I would ask that this brief e-mail be included in the information being gathered at the Forum, and that it be read to the Forum, so that those present may know its contents.

My first suggestion going forward is that the Carrboro Board of Aldermen create a citizens' Policing Task Force, so that this subject may be considered in proper detail. I would suggest that such a Task Force also include representatives of our local police.

I would raise the following issues with such a Task Force:

1) De-militarizing police equipment. In my opinion, in sleepy, rural, arts-oriented Carrboro, our police really do not need any more weaponry than handguns and maybe shotguns. If we are in possession of anything more offensive, I would suggest we get an immediate refund from the federal government.

2) De-militarizing police uniform. Blues are sufficient. I really do not need to see my local police in camo, when asking a neighbor to turn down the stereo.

3) All police officers to wear body cameras. Rules for wearing body cameras to be drafted by citizens and police jointly. And to take into account the need of the community to be able to monitor police activity, and the sensibilities of those citizens who not not wish to be surveilled.

4) The creation of a permanent citizens' Police Oversight Board, with power to monitor hiring, equipment, training, budget, strategy and rules of engagement.

5) New Rules of Engagement, to be drafted jointly by citizens and police, with an emphasis on reducing and avoiding tension and confrontation, not merely suppressing, and use of offensive weaponry as a last resort only.

6) The long-term and consensual implementation of a non-offensive front-line policing approach, leading ultimately to the disarming of front-line police officers.

7) A thorough review of police pay and benefits, to ensure that our police officers are properly remunerated for a new policing approach which will necessarily be more sensitive, complex and risky.

My approach is not to make life more difficult for our police, but to make the interaction between citizen and police more secure for all the parties concerned - the police, the protagonists and the community.

I thank you for reading this e-mail, for listening and for including it in ongoing consideration.

Yours truly,
Geoff Gilson"



The Chapel Hill Policing Forum was held on Saturday, October 4. A mate of mine sent me his personal account. Surprisingly, very few other media folks, including OP, seem to be paying much attention to these Forums. In any event, here is my mate's first-hand account:

"Chief Blue's grand discussion of the militarization of CHPD was largely a non-event. It was more like a WSM unit meeting than anything of real substance (sort of like a WSM unit meeting). Thirty minutes of powerpoint slides that raised as many questions as they answered, and answered most of the important ones poorly. The actual Q&A part lasted less than 40 minutes.

Things I noted in this meeting: The scheduling of the forum was at exactly the time to conflict with the WSM Wine Tasting (which has a pretty good draw from the general public), the Carrborro Really Really Free Market (which drew most of the Internationalist Books & Community Center crowd, thus the most pointed critics of Chief Blue), and the NAACP monthly meeting (who cancelled their meeting in order to attend, much to their credit). This resulted in no more than 50 people total, a quarter of which were in NAACP t-shirts.

Most importantly, militarization was barely touched on and minimized throughout. Chief Blue displayed a slide of the SWAT raid of Yates Garage (FYI: until this time the CHPD had had a SWAT team for over thirty-five years that operated WITH NO RULES OF ENGAGEMENT) contrasted with an officer's "militarized" uniform: a vest with weapons attached to the chest. According to Chief Blue, these uniforms are not designed for holding extra weapons or for intimidation; they are designed for ergonomic back support. Because weapons are heavy.

Secondly, regarding the CHPD's participation in the 1033 Military Surplus Property Program, Chief Blue denied that the CHPD receives weaponry from the military and instead received almost exclusively uniforms and training equipment. Blue stated, regarding the tanks/assault vehicles reported by the New York Times to be in Orange County, "We don't have those." (Also, not a single attendee asked about the tanks as reported.) No weapons were displayed at the meeting and one 1985-vintage armored vehicle was parked out in the lot for gawkers to marvel at the total lack of modern military hardware. But, as far as I am aware, no one has yet to respond directly to question of whether the reported six armored assault vehicles purchased by someone (?) in Orange County exist, let alone who they belong to, if not CHPD.

There was a large amount of discussion about the racial breakdown of law enforcement in Chapel Hill. According to the Chief's presentation, 22% of CHPD employees are African-American, which is twice the percentage of the population of CH. HOWEVER, only FOUR are patrol officers-- the ones with the guns. That stat stuck out. The rest must be parking enforcement...?

Also, Chief Blue made a point of comparing the rifles pictured in the SWAT raid of Yates to pictures of similar rifles in the Wal-Mart hunting season circulars, saying that his officers must be equipped with these weapons because there are 13 million guns in the possession of Americans. Which sounds reasonable, until it is contrasted with another figure presented in the powerpoint: By far the largest percentage of crimes which CHPD deal with are property crimes, not violent crimes. Yates Garage was a case of non-violent property crime but was met with an armed SWAT raid, deployed without rules of engagement.

My take-away from this: It was an pretty slick dodge of serious questioning by a combination of scheduling, time constraints, and long-winded-but-not-concrete answers. A little more light was cast on the problem of a poor recruitment numbers of non-white officers but no real plan was presented to fix the issue. Militarization was mostly a sideline issue, minimized to the point of being a non-starter. Nothing was presented about the weapons the CHPD has access to, but there was a show of pointing out the poor quality of their "military" armored truck. I hope that Chief Blue has half dozen more of these forums on his schedule since this one ignored the big issues to focus in detail on important but less pressing issues of recruitment. Again, as far as the advertised discussion of police militarization goes, this was a non-event

PS-- Before you ask, I did manage to get in a question about militarization, which is how the lack of rules of engagement for the SWAT team came out. After that, I didn't have much room to ask further questions without shouting over other community members, which I didn't want to do. But I will be emailing more questions to Chief Blue this week. As should you.

PPS-- Why was there only one member of the NAACP (out of 15ish) who was under 30? Everyone else was of retirement age. Where are the college-aged members in our college town? That kinda bothers me..."

Alderman Damon Seils has already posted on a Facebook thread of mine that the NYTimes have apparently corrected their original claim that there were six armored personnel carriers in Orange County, now stating that there are only three. Personally, I still think this is three too many.

Besides, having heard one or two bits and pieces, and having been unable to get any kind of satisfactory answer about the alleged law enforcement conference which was taking place the weekend of Yates Garage, back in 2011, I have come to my own view about what may be happening with this 1033 Program around the country. Namely that the federal government may well be parceling equipment around the country, storing it in its own warehouses, making it available to local enforcement agencies, but keeping it off their books.

As wacky and conspiracy theory as that may sound, just remember, ten years ago, if you had been told that the NSA read your e-mails, you might have thought that was wacky and conspiracy theory, too ...

I also attended this first Chapel Hill Police Department forum. It is not accurate to say that media are not paying attention. I tweeted a couple of times during the forum for OrangePolitics. We have two UNC student interns who were in attendance and will be writing up a summary of this forum and the one that the Carrboro Police Department will hold tomorrow evening. In addition, Danny Hooley with WCHL was there and asked questions. Reporters with WCNC recorded the whole forum and interviewed people on camera after. I am also fairly sure that someone from the Daily Tar Heel was there.

I agree that the timing of the forum could have been much better. Chief Blue acknowledged this and stated that more sessions will be held with better timing. Minister Robert Campbell, Chair of our local NAACP, invited Chief Blue to their next monthly meeting in November and Chief Blue accepted.

Minister Campbell let me know that he would work to have more young folks at that meeting. It is really on all our shoulders to help bring more young people and people directly affected by racialized policing (and structural racism in all systems) into the conversation.

I felt that police militarization was given enough time. Police militarization is a symptom of the problem of racilized policing nationwide. What we need is to address the issues of implicit bias, racial profiling, and lack of representation of people of color within law enforcement. These are all issues that Chief Blue acknowledged. 

A number of very tough questions were asked of Chief Blue on Saturday. I hope that people will continue to ask hard questions, follow-up, and work with the police department to ensure there are changes for the better.

I was pleased to hear that Chief Blue has hired a new Assistant Police Chief, Assistant Chief Jaynes (who happens to be African American), and has charged him with examining bias in policing in Chapel Hill. Assistant Chief Jaynes will be engaging the community in this examination.

Over militarization is one thing to be concerned about. Civil forfeiture and so called “equitable sharing” is, nationally much more pernicious because it has the tendency to tempt departments to be bounty hunters with a clear conflict of interest, corroding any notion of due process.

I want to be clear that am not against the forfeiture of ill-gotten gains and I favor these funds going to improve society and reduce burdens on the tax payers who often foot the bill for illegal activities societal erosion. The basis of the rules of society however, is the legal system and the basis for the legal system is due process. To me forfeiture without due process is even worse than eminent domain profiteering.

We should be proud that North Carolina is the only state that does not have civil forfeiture, in order to have property confiscated by the state you must be convicted and forfeited property must go to education (Article IX, Section 7). Law enforcement however, can and has executed an end run around the state statute by doing the investigation and then turning the case over to the Feds who are not restricted under the statute. Federal statutes (21 U.S.C.A. § 881 and 19 U.S.C.A. § 1616a) permit forfeited property to be transferred to any participating state or local law enforcement agency.

We should be concerned that North Carolina benefits to the tune of +90 million (2013), ranking North Carolina #5 in “equable sharing” nationally.

Tony makes a great point.

Does anyone have a report on last night's Carrboro Policing Forum? I can find nothing online. Actually, I still can't find anything else online about the Chapel Hill Policing Forum.

Danny Hooley of WCHL/Chapelboro wrote a good summary of the event at

Thank you, Damon. Agreed. To be blunt, are you in favor of a Citizen's Task Force to now consider Carrboro policing in more detail?

The first person to approach me after the forum last night said, "You have to do this again in 6 months." Some kind of ongoing community engagement is likely. A task force or advisory board might be one useful way to achieve it; I suppose there are others also worth considering. Last night we heard a lot of enthusiasm for the forum and about the importance of efforts to reach people who were unable to attend or were unlikely to feel comfortable attending. I'm hoping to sit down with the town manager and his staff in the next few weeks to go through the facilitator's notes from the forum and hear their ideas about next steps.

I thank you, Damon, for your response. I think, however, some confusion is entering the picture. That may be a confusion of terms. It may be a confusion of culture.

We just had a meet 'n greet. We called it a Forum. But it has no authority.

This term seems to be getting confused with an Oversight Board. Which, in turn, is becoming confused with my suggestion of a Task Force.

Let me cut to the chase and talk about what I would like to see.

I don't think we have major problems with Carrboro policing. What I do think we have is a nation with policing problems. And I think we can find a way, consensually, working with our police and the community, to design new, more co-operative ways of policing, which, once tried in Carrboro, might have application elsewhere in the US.

My starting point for such a re-design would be a situation where citizens are running the police. And I think this might be another source of cultural confusion. Your approach appears to be reactive oversight. Mine is along the lines of the UK model, where civilians pro-actively run the police.

Imagine our police as a professional non-profit or a company. There would be the equivalent of a Board of Directors, made up of civilian citizens, which would set goals and policies for budget, strategy, hiring, equipment, rules of engagement, and the like. And the Chief of Police would report back regularly on compliance.

For sure, there might be review functions, and Annual Meetings (Forums). But my theme, whatever the terminology, is for a pro-active re-designing of policing, with civilians pro-actively in charge of policing.

Now, the latter could be achieved in a number of ways. For example, under the auspices of the existing funding agency - the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Or, by the creation of a new civilian Oversight Board.

I think consideration of these matters is way too weighty and detail-oriented for a couple of meet 'n greets. And that is why I talk of a Task Force, established by the Aldermen, with a remit to study, research, receive submissions, hold meetings, for a period of, say, a year, and then report back, with options and proposals, both on overall strategy (Who Runs Police?), and on all the tactical matters that are being raised (e.g. militarization, body cameras, and the like).

What bothers me a little in this last regard is what I perceive, perhaps erroneously, as the suggestion that the drive as to next steps should come from staff. Granted, they are citizens, as too are the police. But I would prefer the drive to be coming from those we elect.

Whether or not these thoughts find favor, do they at least clear up any confusion? It may well be that I gather my thoughts a bit more and present them as a more formal submission to the Board of Aldermen.

The events that the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Police Departments have just held were decidedly not simply meet n' greets. Both Chief Blue (Chapel Hill) and Chief Horton (Carrboro) fielded some very tough questions and were given some strong recommendations about how policing can be more equitable and transparent in our communities. Although the sessions were different, both were just the first steps. There are elected officials, town staff, and very importantly, residents of the towns who will be continuing to engage in this effort. There are already groups of citizens meeting. The local NAACP is engaged. The Organizing Against Racism Alliance in our community is as well. 

I encourage all those interested in this topic to keep asking questions, asking for more dialogue, and participating in that dialogue.

We'd also welcome more discussion on this thread (and this site) about what you would like to see in terms of policing for our community.

Molly, it doesn't matter that we disagree, because we are all allowed different points of view. What I was trying to do was clear up any confusion of terms. Confusion can be accidental. Sometimes, it can be deliberate. I wish us to move to a position where the citizens in our community actually design the policing approach. You are inviting dialogue. Dialogue is not designing.

I posted as many of the questions and answers as I could hear @terribuck

I have been engaged in a little follow-up, with respect to citizen engagement with policing in Carrboro, since the first Carrboro Policing Forum. I have written a new post in this regard, so that you can pick and choose how much you want to read (!). I link to it here.


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