Chapel Hill Police Department’s Community Outreach – Round 2

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Looks like I’m stuck on “law and order” mode with the latest series of posts.

The Chapel Hill Police Department is hosting an additional community outreach Nov. 4th, 4:30 and 5:30pm at Extraordinary Ventures, Elliot Rd. (INFO).

The meetings present an opportunity to comment on and improve the department’s new strategic plan. The plan’s current high level goals include:

  • Reduce crime through a strategic and data-driven partnership with our stakeholders through prevention, accountability and enforcement.
  • Foster a relationship of mutual trust through consistent, honest, and timely customer service.
  • Foster a relationship of mutual trust through consistent, honest, and timely customer service.
  • Provide a professional and nurturing work environment that promotes accountability through fair and consistent treatment of our employees.
  • Promote vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian safety through education and enforcement.

This is round 2 of the process. Round 1, held this Spring, collected initial public input to help develop the outlines of the plan. Round 2 is an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the draft strategic plan. While this Spring’s meetings were well attended (I went to them all), the community has not responded to the call this Fall.

Trying to generate some interest in next week’s meeting I recorded the following commentary for WCHL’s Ron Stutts this morning.

`Live in North Carolina long enough and you will probably hear that when it comes to addressing an issue there is the right way, the wrong way and the Chapel Hill way.

While some folks consider Chapel Hill’s role as a progressive leader in our State as an oddity deserving of ridicule, many of the positive qualities that attract people to our community are a direct result of our willingness to forge our own way.

Progress though, even for Chapel Hill, can move in fits and starts. As our community evolves, responds to new realities, integrates new ideas, it is important that we understand that we can’t cruise on our reputation – that building a better community is an ongoing process which requires work and public engagement.

You might have heard that Chapel Hill’s Police Chief Brian Curran announced he was leaving his post after serving our community for nearly 3 decades.

Brian’s tenure as Chief was notable for a number of reasons including changing the management structure of the department to cultivate new leadership, encouraging greater responsibility by front-line staff and building better relationships between the community and law enforcement.

Brian understood that our community is different – that we expect our police folks to understand and abide by the Chapel Hill way. He strengthened the forces commitment to that way. Thank you Brian for that and your decades of service.

Setting a new direction for the department, adapting to new realities, is a work in progress. To better address these new challenges, Brian, along with his Assistant Chiefs Bob Overton and Chris Blue initiated a program of community outreach to better understand the issues our residents are concerned about today, to highlight problems in effectively and responsibility providing service and to draw upon the incredible expertise within this community.

The first round of meetings held this Spring were well attended – lots of good interactions culminating in the creation of a new strategic plan of action for our police department. From that input over twenty of our staff worked diligently to create a draft proposal incorporating key goals like fostering mutual trust, improving accountability, using a data-driven methods to determine appropriate resourcing and building relationships in our community.

Unfortunately, this round of meetings our community has not turned out to review and improve this plan of action. Whether you are concerned about specific incidents – like what happened to local barber Charles Brown – or think that the department needs more oversight in the form of a civilian review board – or even if you are satisfied – show up. Brian and his staff did their part, it is time for us to do ours. Building a better community can’t happen if you stay at home.

The next and final meeting for this phase is Nov. 4th. Two sessions 4:30 and 5:30pm at Extraordinary Ventures on Elliot Rd. More information is available on the Town’s website: townofchapelhill.org.

Our Next Police Chief

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

[UPDATE:] I blew it! As Fred Black reminded me, the Chief is selected by the Town Manager. While the Council can talk about the parameters and criteria of selection, the choice is Roger Stancil’s.

Just got home from tonight’s Council meeting. The meeting ended with a closed session to consider personnel matters so they shooed the remaining few folks out the door.

There are two hot personnel issues that I can think of that need Council’s attention.

One is the strange and unfortunate story of Town employees Clyde Clark and Kerry Bigelow. Tonight a number of folks joined “the two workers along with Chapel Hill Transit bus driver Stan Norwood” who “have protested what they call management intimidation and health and safety hazards in the workplace” (OrangeChat) to question their work suspension (the Chapel Hill News’ OrangeChat has more here).

The second, and much more pleasant piece of business, involves selecting our next Chief of Police to replace Brian Curran (Farewell Chief!). [UPDATE] It wasn’t to consider a new Chief as this responsibility, as Fred reminded me, falls squarely on Roger’s shoulders.

Comments by Brian and Town Manager Roger Stancil lend credence to the current “conventional wisdom” that the next Chief will be drawn from our current ranks. Both Assistant Police Chief Chris Blue and Assistant Police Chief Bob Overton top the lists of folks I have informally polled.

I met Chris years ago when he was working to strengthen our Town’s response to gang-related issues. I have run into him fairly often since as he worked to build a tighter relationship between the community and the police force. With broad experience within our force, a strong working knowledge of the “Chapel Hill way” and a track-record of reaching out to work beyond a strictly “law and order” approach to policing, Chris would be an excellent member of the Town’s management team.

While I ran into Bob off-and-on over the last few years, it is only recently that I have gotten to know him. Another strong candidate with an extensive breadth of experience and a firm grip on the vagaries of Chapel Hill law enforcement. Bob would also make an excellent addition to our management team.

I’m not aware of any other candidates but if there are any I expect Roger to use both Bob and Chris as the yardstick to measure them by. Brian has already set our department on a new course, we need their type of leadership to forge ahead.

As we wait to see if selecting the Chief was actually the reason for holding the meeting, there is another opportunity to meet both the apparent front-runners Nov. 4th at the next community outreach session (INFO).

Farewell Chief!

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I rushed back from Asheville this evening and missed the announcement (WCHL1360 and Daily Tar Heel) that Chief Brian Curran is resigning effective Nov. 30th.

I posted Sept. 24, 2007 when Brian was appointed.

I’ve had an opportunity to meet Brian in a few different venues these last few months and my initial impression that he was a talented officer capable of leading our department through transitional times has only been strengthened.

When he was initially appointed to take Chief Jarvies position I did a little research and was impressed by the commitment he has shown our Town.

When Town Manager Roger Stancil cast a wide net seeking a new Chief, I was hoping that our own law enforcement folks would be considered fully. With the failure to secure Roger’s first choice (due to the candidate’s failure to pass a health exam), I was looking forward to a re-evaluation of our home team bench.

I’ve gotten to know Brian a bit more since then and, more importantly, seen him in action – facing some rather stiff challenges over the last 3 years.

At the time Roger had charged Brian with the following goals:

  • Assess the department, involving our employees and the community to tell us what we are doing well and where we have opportunities for improvement.
  • Create a leadership development program for our officers and our non-sworn employees to develop our future leaders internally.
  • Take positive steps to create a diverse command and supervisory structure that represents the various cultural faces of Chapel Hill.
  • Expand the community policing efforts of the department so that community policing becomes a belief system within our department.
  • Take the lead in innovation and teamwork to find solutions to community issues.

Brian has definitely made progress on these goals – as exemplified by the most recent community outreach effort and development of set of measurable strategic goals (two more chances to attend – information here).

It appears from WCHL’s report that Roger will be trying to fill the position from within – good news as one of Brian’s achievements was to strengthen our internal leadership while creating a more innovative command structure that can deal with Chapel Hill’s issues in a Chapel Hill way.

If Roger reaches out beyond our staff, I expect him to pull some expertise and advice from our community in finding a candidate.

Congratulations Chief. Thank you for your service. And thank you for shepherding us through one more Halloween!

Civilian Review Board: Process Lurches Forward

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I was unable to attend the latest Civilian Review Board meeting but according to the Indy’s Joe Schwartz, the process continues to lurch forward.

One point that I thought needed answering, why wait for NC legislative approval, was dealt with. Sally Greene and Mark Kleinschmidt both seemed to endorse moving forward creating a board that had all the powers of review except that of perusing personnel records (which will require statutory approval – something already done elsewhere).

Barry Freeman, one of the protesters arrested 2 years ago at Chapel Hill’s Army recruitment office, laid out the case for not waiting:

“A review board can be set up that receives complaints doesn’t necessarily have to go call some policeman and look up his record,” Freeman said. “That might be nice, but without that you can still have 90 percent of the value of a review board. Waiting for the General Assembly to act is just putting off for longer than the two years we’ve been waiting to get this going.”

I’m still thinking through how to best deal with the issues which sparked the call for such a board.

The current Council/Mayor special review committee is too insular to qualify as an instrument of transparency and greater public overview.

Creating a new overview group, though, also runs the risk of building walls between the community and our police force. In many ways, our current force, and its management, have worked to bridge the gaps exposed by a number of recent incidents.

I participated in the recent community/police forums which was supposed to create a list of issues that the force needed to focus on. There were several problems, unfortunately, with those forums: the process was stilted and forced – crafted to avoid “hot spots”, the output of the forums was watered down substantially at the summary level (distinct critiques were lost in massaging them into more general categories) and instead of an iterative approach – taking input from the first set of forums, creating responses and then bringing the public back in to refine their critiques – the point-in-time sample was seen as complete.

Without regular community engagement, these forums cannot be seen as a substitute for a more formal review board.

There needs to be quite a bit more community discussion on how the board will function, how the membership is recruited and appointed, how the process won’t build walls but bridges between the force and the community, etc.

Oct. 11th the Council as a whole will weigh in with their opinions.

[UPDATE:] Joe had Indy comments opened.

Persons Out of Place

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

In my application for Bill’s seat on Council, I mentioned my concern (“Walking is not a crime.”) that the recently announced Orange County Community Safety Partnership program, which trains Town staff and the general public to identify and report criminal activity or other public safety related issues, needs to be careful in discriminating what is and what isn’t considered “suspicious”.

When the Police Department announced the Orange County Community Safety Partnership, I was concerned because it sounded like the roundly criticized Homeland Security TIPS program. It wasn’t clear what kind of oversight, training or civil protections were part of the program. Pat Burns, our representative, walked me through the program and provided some insight on its operation. The training presentation has a few items I would like see addressed and I believe the community would be well-served by having Pat run Council through the process to solicit feedback. For me, the part about reporting “persons walking through yards of residential areas or seeming out of place” needs to be clarified. You might recall a recent embarrassing incident when a young man using his cell on his street corner had the police called because he “seemed out of place.”

The incident I’m referring to was reported throughout Town and on BlueNC.

Dear Lake Forest neighbors,

My name is Allen Buansi. I am 21 years old. I’m 5-11, weigh around 190 pounds and I am a black man. More often than not, you may see me in the neighborhood on a bicycle and wearing a backpack. I’ve lived in Chapel Hill for about 10 years and have lived in the Lake Forest neighborhood for much of that time. I attend Dartmouth College, and I head back up to school on September 14. I work at the local YMCA. I am in Chapel Hill for the summer, and I am an assistant football coach for East Chapel Hill High School, the school from which I graduated.

You may see me on the corner of Tadley Drive and Ridgecrest during the day or at night talking on a cell-phone to my girlfriend who lives in Texas. Or you may see me there talking on a cell-phone with my mother who lives in Richmond, Virginia and is a Ph.D student at UNC. You may even see me on a cell-phone talking to one of my best friends, Andres, who also lives in Texas. You may see me there on my bike because I have just ridden back from football practice at the high school. The reason why I am on that corner in the first place? I do not get a good signal back at the house, which is in Avalon Court, a block down from Tadley Drive. And so the only places I get a good signal at are at the corners of Avalon Court and Ridgecrest Drive and of Ridgecrest Drive and Tadley Drive.

…..

A neighbor had called the police department saying that there was a suspicious man standing on the corner. “There have been robbers in the area, and we came check out the situation,” one of the officers said to me. “I see,” I say. “So can I not talk here on my cell-phone? I get a pretty bad signal back at the house.”

The officer then recommended that I go down half a mile to the parking lot of Whole Foods to talk on my cell-phone. He recommended that I leave the neighborhood in which I live and have stayed for the past 10 years, so I could talk on the phone to my loved ones. “Otherwise if we get more calls, we’re going to keep coming down here.”

Last year we had a few day time break-ins at the end of the street. Pretty surprising given that the Police Department is only a block away. Our neighborhood got together and reviewed our community policing options.

During that meeting, a young black woman who lived on our road told us a similar story. She was walking home when a police cruiser slowly pulled-up. She was stopped, asked for ID and told to be “more cautious”. More cautious?

Anyway, it turns out her neighbor had called the police. The neighbor was quite embarrassed, apologized profusely.

I spoke with Pat Burns at length and he provided a copy of the training PowerPoint (here). While the language could be tightened up – “persons walking through yards of residential areas or seeming out of place” – this is the PowerPoint and not the actual training session. Obviously the class-setting provides an opportunity to flesh out what constitutes “suspicious” and provide guidelines on where the bar is set for calling in law enforcement.

Pat understood my concerns, said there was some provision to weed out false reports on ex-lovers, etc. He also offered to let me attend a session to see what kind of safeguards exist for myself (it is open to the public, space available).

If I get the chance, I’ll attend and report back my findings.

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