Police Chief Atack crunches numbers for Carrboro Town Council

GOVERNMENT

By Fraser Sherman
Correspondent

CARRBORO — Out of 586 incident reports in the second and third quarters of 2023, the Carrboro Police Department used force in 18 cases, Police Chief Chris Atack says.

At Carrboro Town Council’s June 18 meeting, the last meeting until September, Atack presented statistics on traffic stops, searches, citations, complaints filed against officers, and use of force. Carrboro established quarterly police reporting on those and other topics back in 2020. The reports help the council members see how Carrboro is progressing toward the goals the council listed in 2020:

  • No racial/ethnic disparities in traffic stops.
  • No racial/ethnic disparities in searches following traffic stops.
  • No racial/ethnic disparities in citations and arrests following stops.
  • No racial/ethnic disparities in the use of force.
  • No arrests for low-level marijuana-related offenses.

“Use of force” includes eight incidents in the Q2 and Q3 reporters where police pointed a weapon, eight where they put hands on someone to restrain them, and two where police threatened the use of either an electric device or a Taser. Atack said “electric device” means the same as Tasers, except without the brand name.

Atack said it used to be acceptable to use Tasers on fleeing suspects. However, because of a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, police departments in the court’s jurisdiction are unlikely to use them unless the situation is desperate. Instead, officers are more likely to point the Taser without using it.

Cases involving force come in several varieties. In one such case, Atack said, “A DUI suspect tried walking away. You can’t do that.” Other cases involved restraining an aggressive drunk driver, an aggravated assault case, and an armed home invasion. One involved a suspect breaking away from a new police officer and running out of the police department.

After hearing Atack’s presentation, Councilor Catherine Fray asked if the rules for when pointing a weapon are justified depending on the threat level. Atack said it could be because of the danger—an armed suspect wielding a weapon in a crowd, say—but also in cases involving felony charges, even without an imminent threat. “Use of force has to be reasonable under the totality of circumstances.”

Traffic stops

One of the topics the town has requested data on is residency: Where do drivers in traffic stops come from? Atack said, “typically 50 percent of our stops are not folks from Carrboro.” However, they haven’t developed a system for tracking residency in more detail yet.

The Q2 demographics of stopped drivers break down into 40 % Caucasian, 36 % Black, 19 % Hispanic, and 5 % Asian. For Q3 it was 43 % Caucasian; 31 % black; 19 % Hispanic; and 7 % Asian.

More than 70 % of stops in both quarters are for speed or safety. Around 10 % are checking registration. Other reasons include investigative work and problems with the vehicle’s equipment. Only one driver was stopped for not using a seatbelt.

Atack said officers won’t stop someone for an expired tag. If, however, a check shows the DMV has canceled a plate for some reason, the officer will pull the driver over and confiscate the plate.

Diversion and Deflection

Sometimes, officers with grounds to charge someone will “divert and deflect,” steering them to mental health or other community services instead. In March 2024, Carrboro hired Social Worker Monrita Hughes to find alternatives to jail for mentally ill individuals who commit low-level criminal acts. Hughes’ work is part of a joint project by law enforcement in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, and Orange County.

Atack’s presentation says “D&D” is a longstanding Carrboro PD policy. The department didn’t start tracking it until Q3 of 2023, when there were 48 D&D incidents. The department will track statistics on Hughes’ work going forward.

Officer Presence

Council Member Eliazar Posada said he had been contacted by residents of various apartment complexes who wondered what the criteria were for having a police officer present in the parking lot. Posada said one of the people who brought it up just moved into a new apartment and worried the officer’s presence meant it was a high-crime area.

Atack said it could be multiple reasons. Sometimes, it is in response to a call from management. In other cases an officer discovers multiple car thefts in the same area and appears as a deterrent. “We try to be as responsive as we can, but we also don’t want to over-respond and over-police.”

Posada recommended that the people who’d queried him talk to their property managers before they make any assumptions.

You can watch the entire meeting on the council’s YouTube Channel.


Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.
This reporter can be reached at Info@TheLocalReporter.press

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