The Chapel Hill Police Department has increased its patrols and is reviewing its procedures in response to a sexual assault that occurred in the Shortbread Loft Apartment’s parking garage last fall.
"Patrols were stepped up directly around that apartment complex and throughout Downtown. We even worked with UNC Police to make sure there was plenty of information sharing and assistance where needed," said Ran Northam, community safety communications specialist for the Town of Chapel Hill.
Jabe Hunter, assistant chief of police for CHPD, said while the sexual assault was a big event that happened during that time period, it wasn’t the only reason for that increase in patrols.
“We also do some extra patrols around neighborhoods where a lot of students live because our experience has shown us that that could be a potential area where somebody may want to break in while a student is away to steal electronics or something like that,” Hunter said. “Those are typical things we do every year and part of our regular routine.”
Officers ride through downtown on bikes as part of these patrols. The bikes allow them to go places without having to worry about traffic and also to be stealthier because they don’t have sirens.
During the Community Policing Advisory Committee (CPAC) meeting on Jan. 14, Hunter spoke of a new eBike program the police department started to help the downtown bicycle officers.
“What that does is it lessens the fatigue on them so they can stay out riding a lot longer than normally they would,” Hunter said. “While there is some peddling motion going on, they work a 12-hour shift and that battery assist really allows them to spend more time riding that back during those 12 hours than the way it used to be.”
The department has only two eBikes in their fleet, but they are getting ready to buy two more.
An increase in patrols means more officers working overtime, but Hunter said they budget for that pay every year and use data to find the best place for the high-visibility patrols.
“We look at previous history, what’s happened in the previous years,” Hunter said. “It goes a long way in helping us to make sure we’re getting the most out of our overtime budget."
Calvin Deutschbein, a graduate student at UNC and a member of the CPAC, said he doesn’t think increasing patrols is enough to keep a community safe.
“If you want to make the community safer, you really want to be looking at community-based solutions, rather than enforcement-based solutions,” Deutschbein said. “Retaliation and deterrence aren’t super effective at preventing most forms of interpersonal violence or other types of things that you would want to be stopping, some of which would be classified as crimes.”
He added that if law enforcement wanted to make the community safer, they would be investing in things like better street lighting.
Similarly, some students said they don’t necessarily believe that patrol increases are effective, but Hunter said his experience and instinct says it does. He said, however, it can be difficult to measure the exact impact.
“I will say, we do look at numbers of break-ins that happen over the holidays and we have been able to make some impacts in a reduction in those numbers particularly around when we market the patrols, the house checks and all that,” Hunter said. “We do see a decrease in those numbers, but it’s hard to know exactly what effect or deterrent that may have.”
Samantha Davis, a UNC student and co-chair for the Criminal Justice Awareness and Action committee at the Campus Y, said increased patrols and policing has an impact on minority students.
“I’m not for increased policing on campus, and I think in order to protect bodies that are most often encountering harmful police interactions, specifically Black and brown students, increasing police patrol on campus is not the solution,” Davis said. “I don’t think it’s effective at all.”
CHPD would only patrol in its jurisdiction and not on campus unless the UNC Police Department asks for assistance.
Deutschbein said patrol officers will more often than not claim to smell marijuana and use that to search people’s cars, but he said this has a large racial disparity attached to it.
“We usually see a lot more harassment of housing-insecure populations,” he said. “This is not how I would address any sort of problem like that. And I think that there is going to be a lot of inherent violence against these marginalized people as a result of increases in patrols.”
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