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Chapel Hill Police Department updates raid response after Yates Motor Company

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A woman was arrested by Chapel Hill police on November 13, 2011 in front of the old Chrysler Building on West Franklin Street.

Nearly eleven months after the Yates Motor Company building raid, David Maliken is still angry about the way police handled the situation.

In response to heavy criticism from Maliken and other community members, the Chapel Hill Police Department recently announced policy changes it has made since the raid.

A Chapel Hill resident for about six years, Maliken was one of seven “Occupy Chapel Hill” protesters arrested Nov. 13 after members of the group took over the vacant Yates building at 419 W. Franklin St.

“(They claimed) the raid was warranted because there were ‘known anarchists present,’” he said. “Part of the evidence they used to justify the raid was literature that was present. Last time I checked, there’s no law against literature.”

During the raid, a team of police armed with assault rifles broke up the occupiers.

Last week, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue released a memo detailing the department’s policy changes.

In the months following the raid, the police department received criticism from residents for its strong-handed response, prompting an internal review.

“Our policy manual is an evolving thing,” Blue said. “It’s refined and updated regularly.”

Blue described the police department as a “living organization” that constantly reviews its policies.

“We always learn after any incident, whether it’s Halloween or a basketball celebration or our response to a homicide,” he said.

New outlines for the Special Emergency Response Team — the team that responded on Nov. 13 — detail when it is appropriate to use the team, along with the different levels of response available.

Though the team, known as SERT, has existed since 1979, it has never had a formal written policy.

Blue said the police department has also worked to improve communication, both internally and externally, to ensure officers and residents are informed during emergencies.

Blue said if another Yates-like incident happened today, police would communicate with people inside the building and make sure to keep the community better informed.

Councilman Lee Storrow said he wished there had been a more rigorous investigation.

“But I do appreciate that our police force proactively addresses some of those issues on their own,” he said.

Blue said the police department has been working to regain residents’ trust since the November raid.

“That experience has formed our discussion to this day,” he said. “We are forever impacted, and I think improved actually, by that experience.”

But he doesn’t feel the handling of the Yates raid has permanently hurt the department’s relationship with residents.

Olivia Wells, a UNC senior, agreed.

“In that situation, it was definitely overkill,” she said. “But you can’t evaluate an entire organization by one event.”

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Maliken said his charges were dismissed in July.

But he also said he lost his trust in Chapel Hill after his experiences with Occupy.

“I hadn’t realized I had had so much faith in small-scale, local government … until I suddenly realized that faith was gone,” Maliken said.

“No matter what level of the political system you’re at, it really comes down to covering your ass.”

Contact the desk editor at city@dailytarheel.com.

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