N.C. Promised Police Reform a Year Ago. Did It Happen?

The death of George Floyd inspired communities across North Carolina to commit themselves to reforming policing practices. A year later, some cities have made more progress towards those goals than others.

(TNS) — The murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for over nine minutes May 25, 2020, accelerated local police reforms in many communities across North Carolina.

In June, leaders in Raleigh, Durham and other cities announced they had banned chokeholds and had adopted or would soon adopt all the measures in the national "8 Can't Wait" police reform campaign.

But other changes, like the creation of a long-sought police advisory board in Raleigh, or new policies on how departments respond to some 911 calls, were already in the works. Those efforts continue nearly a year later, as local governments prepare budgets for the coming fiscal year.

Here is where local governments stood roughly a year ago and what they are saying and doing today.


What leaders said they would do: Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin pledged to review Raleigh Police Department policies for compliance with Campaign Zero's 8 Can't Wait and My Brother's Keeper Alliance's Reimagining Policing programs.

The City Council and Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown committed to review police actions after peaceful protests against police brutality turned violent and tear gas was deployed in the spring of 2020. The City Council also pledged to participate in racial equity training.

"We must and we will ensure that we are better," Baldwin said. "Reform starts with us, with the chief of police in an organization."

What they've done:

— Five of the 8 Can't Wait policies, including requiring a verbal warning before use of deadly force, were in place. The department did not use knee restraints but did ban chokeholds and strangleholds in June. A police department spokesperson said Campaign Zero determined the remaining two policies did not meet the 8 Can't Wait specifications. Both were updated in October. De-escalation was already a department policy, but the department updated it to "shore up the language," a city spokesperson said. The 8 Can't Wait campaign states officers can't ever shoot into moving vehicle, but Raleigh's updated policy lets an officer shoot at a vehicle being used as a weapon against an officer or another person.

— The police department completed an internal review of officers' actions during May 30 to June 7 protests. That report was used by city consultant 21CP Solutions, which made 33 recommendations, of which 17 are complete, according to an April 27 memo from the police chief. Another seven are categorized as implemented and ongoing, and nine have long-term time frames for completion.

— The Raleigh City Council decided to postpone racial-equity training until the board had all eight members again after a council member resigned. The council considered scheduling it in early 2021 or as part of the council's retreat, but the consultants were uncomfortable with in-person sessions due to COVID-19. Training is not currently scheduled.

Chapel Hill

What leaders said they would do: The Town Council approved a resolution June 24, 2020, pledging to improve racial equity and public safety, and change policies "that may criminalize poverty." It aligned the Chapel Hill Police Department with 8 Can't Wait, including ending traffic stops for regulatory and equipment issues.

"In recognition of history repeating itself yet again, and the need to redress the systems of power, positions of authority and the treatment of people of color, we recognize the need to critically examine the role of racial bias and institutional racism in our community. We stand for justice and for the equitable treatment of Black and brown people," said council member Allen Buansi, who wrote the council's June statement after Floyd's death.

What they've done: The police department changed several policies, such as requiring officers to report other officers who commit violations.

Regulatory and equipment violation stops fell to 76 between July and February, according to the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation. Over the same period in 2019-20, there were 663 such stops. Black drivers still accounted for roughly a third of those traffic stops, while over 50% of drivers stopped were white.

In addition, the council met with Police Chief Chris Blue in September to emphasize its desire to expressly prohibit neck restraints, carotid restraints and chokeholds. In October the town's Reimagining Community Safety Task Force began discussing how to better invest local funding in the community, and the duties of the existing Community Policing Advisory and Justice in Action committees. It could bring its recommendations to the council soon.


Before George Floyd's death, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department took steps aimed at reducing the use of deadly force.

In November 2019, CMPD changed its policy on de-escalation requirements, emphasizing that officers must attempt to defuse tense or potentially violent situations before using force. The policy also bans drawing and pointing a gun at someone unless the officer "reasonably believes that deadly force may become necessary."

In February 2020, CMPD broke ground on a new training facility for practicing de-escalation tactics.

What they've done: Since Floyd's death, the department has:

— Been found in compliance with the 8 Can't Wait policy platform.

— Announced a duty-to-intervene policy that requires officers to step in if nearby officers are not following procedure, though some activists have criticized the policy for its limited scope. CMPD also started tracking whenever officers draw their guns with a new piece of technology.

According to the '8 Can't Wait' website, CMPD is now in compliance with the other four policies, which include banning choke holds and strangle holds, requiring de-escalation, establishing a use of force continuum and requiring officers to warn people before they shoot.

— Said in September that it would no longer use tear gas or "CS gas" during protests. The decision came three months after an incident in uptown in which witnesses and protesters said they suffered injuries and were trapped by tear gas that was deployed in both directions.

— Vowed to discontinue the use of no-knock warrants during investigations.

Asked if he thinks the city has grown impatient waiting for reforms, CMPD chief Johnny Jennings counters that its residents have become "more involved."

"The community has now seen that they can be loud and vocal and make demands," said Jennings, who became chief in July. "But what they can't do is ... then go home and wait for it to happen. ... Everything can't be put on police."


What leaders said they would do: Mayor Steve Schewel pledged in June to examine Durham's policing policies for the 8 Can't Wait project. Two of the strategies had already been established in the Durham Police Department: having a use of force continuum and requiring de-escalation.

The Durham City Council also committed a $1 million "down payment" towards recommendations from the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force, tasked with brainstorming new public safety practices. Planning for the task force had already been underway after over a year of advocacy by the Durham Beyond Policing coalition.

In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered in June 2020, Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson said: "Our best chance for building a safety solution that puts people first, that puts communities first, that takes care of people rather than criminalizes, incarcerates and punishes them is by shifting resources that we use for policing into other systems, alternative systems, alternative institutions rather than the institutions that we know are also causing us harm."

What they've done:

— Durham fully adopted all eight policing strategies and received certification from Campaign Zero.

— The Community Safety and Wellness Task Force formed and began meeting in April.

— The city expanded Bull City United, spending $935,0000 to hire 18 more employees for four more neighborhoods. The civilian-led violence prevention team is run by Durham County's public health department.

— Durham analyzed three years of 911 service calls through a partnership with RTI International. The city is now planning to send specialists to quality of life and mental health crisis calls, in addition to or instead of armed officers.

— The city manager proposed the formation of a Community Safety Department to house new safety initiatives outside of the police department. A majority of council members pledged to cut 20 vacant police department positions annually for three years, shifting the positions to the new department.


What leaders said they would do: In June, Mayor Nancy Vaughan took former President Barack Obama's Reimagining Policing Pledge to review policing policies, engage local communities, report back findings and implement reform.

"To all who have been peacefully protesting in recent days, to all who are outraged by the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Marcus Deon Smith, and so many others: I hear you," Vaughan wrote. "I hear your anger, your pain, your frustration of justice denied for far too long. I hear you crying out for a new way, for changes in priorities and policies, in systems and structures. I want those things too."

What they've done:

— The Greensboro Police Department implemented a policy requiring officers to use the minimum amount of force necessary

— It adopted a policy banning chokeholds absent the need to use deadly force and required officers to intervene verbally and physically if they witness another officer using excessive force

— It required officers to issue verbal warnings when possible before the use of deadly force, including the use of a Taser, pepper spray, or a police dog

— It mandated that officers inform residents of their right to refuse a consensual search


What leaders said they would do: In a joint statement from Asheville leaders last May, the city acknowledged its history of incidents of excessive force in policing, and committed to working towards reform.

"While there is no erasing of centuries of abuse and mistrust nationwide, with Mr. Floyd's tragic death, we recommit to listening, learning, and working toward an equitable and inclusive Asheville," the statement said.

Later that year, City Manager Debra Campbell said the city would work to identify new police reforms to be implemented, reconsider models of policing in schools and Housing Authority communities, and work with community partners to establish a collaborative response team for mental health, drug and alcohol, homeless and domestic violence issues, according to The Citizen Times.

What they've done:

— Asheville launched its "Reimagine Public Safety" initiative

— The City Council voted to remove or repurpose the Vance Monument, which is named for a Confederate military officer and former N.C. governor.

— The City council passed a resolution supporting community reparations for the Black community

— Decreased police funding, reallocating some resources from Asheville police to other departments


What leaders said they would do: Fayetteville was among the nine North Carolina cities to sign onto the Reimagining Policing Pledge.

In June, Mayor Mitch Colvin established two committees to review the city's policies regarding racial inequalities. "It's my intent that we take a hard look at what we do from both an internal and external perspective at the city level," he said at the time.

When asked about the progress Fayetteville has made in fulfilling the pledge, Police Chief Gina Hawkins said in a statement: "This is a continuous process of evolution and evaluation; one that takes the involvement not only of our officers, but our entire community. We have been on track, but this provides a type of blueprint to follow for the future for everyone to understand and participate in our community safety."

What they've done:

— The Fayetteville Police Department established a "Duty to Intervene" policy, requiring employees to take action when they witness another officer using excessive force

— The police department provided department-wide diversity, equity and inclusion training

— The City Council passed a Citizens Advisory Board resolution to build better relationships between police officers and the community

— The council voted to repurpose Market House, a focal point of protests last year for its history as a place where enslaved people were sold.

— The city hosted virtual community dialogues on race and community relations between residents, police officers and other city representatives

The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report. (c)2021 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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