A new tool to track police-stop data across North Carolina | News
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Thursday, December 17, 2015

A new tool to track police-stop data across North Carolina

Posted by on Thu, Dec 17, 2015 at 2:50 PM

click to enlarge Fayetteville police chief Harold Medlock, Durham Councilman Charlie Reece, and SCSJ attorney Ian Mance.
  • Fayetteville police chief Harold Medlock, Durham Councilman Charlie Reece, and SCSJ attorney Ian Mance.
In 1999, North Carolina became the first state in the country to pass a law requiring police officers to submit specific data about every traffic stop made. The statute requires the reporting of 45 different data points, including date and time; officer ID number; age, race, gender of the motorist; whether there was a search of the vehicle; whether that search was based on consent or probable cause; whether any contraband was found; how much contraband was found; and use of force.

It’s a hugely thorough, and valuable, reservoir of information on law enforcement in North Carolina — 15 years, 20 million stops. But until today, it was just a bunch of raw, disconnected data, all but impossible for ordinary citizens to access or make sense of.

With the launch of OpenDataPolicingNC.com, though, this information is now searchable from your couch, and updated monthly. The open-source website is a collaboration between Southern Coalition for Social Justice staff attorney (and Durham resident) Ian Mance and local software developers. 

At a press conference this afternoon at Caktus Group (Caktus cofounder Colin Copeland was one of the software developers who worked on the project), Mance laid out some scenarios in which the database could be useful. 

"So, let's say you are a 20-year-old black man who is stopped by an officer, and you feel like you were singled out, that it wasn't legitimate," Mance said. "You can log onto the site, type in your general personal info — age, gender, day of stop — and hit submit. Then you'll see some times of day that match your stop. So if you know you were stopped at 8 a.m., you can find your specific stop. From there you can click on the officer number of the officer who stopped you, and you can see his career stats — percentages of race and ethnicity of who he has stopped, his search rate, his contraband hit rate." 

Mance also used an example of an Orange County officer who, for four consecutive years, searched as many Hispanics as non-Hispanics in Chapel Hill, a city with a single-digit Hispanic population. His contraband hit rate was one percent. "He had a pattern of stopping hundreds of Hispanics but finding nothing," Mance said. 

What remains to be seen is how the roughly 311 law enforcement agencies in North Carolina this database tracks will make use of it. Some already are. Present at the press conference was Fayetteville police chief Harold Medlock, who has begun integrating the site into his management protocols. The Fayetteville Police Department has seen a decrease in the number of searches and in the use of force at stops, Medlock noted.

What about Durham? Newly elected Councilman Charlie Reece, who was active in the successful effort to change the Durham Police Department's search policy last year, said that hard data like OpenDataPolicingNC.com provides is crucial in reform efforts. "We've got a new police chief coming in, and I will be encouraging the city manager to look for a candidate who understands the importance of this data," Reece said. 

In related Durham Police Department news, the DPD released an initial draft on a body-camera policy today. Under the proposal, officers will be required to wear body cameras for their entire work shift, as well as during off-duty jobs. Officers must also begin recording immediately upon being dispatched to a call for service. Footage will be stored for 180 days, except in the cases of DWIs, misdemeanors, felonies, or accidents involving City of Durham vehicles. 

The DPD will continue to take public comments on the policy until January 14, 2016. You can view the proposal in its entirety here

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