A North Carolina Police Department Improves Its Customer Satisfaction | St. Louis Public Radio

A North Carolina Police Department Improves Its Customer Satisfaction

Jan 2, 2016
Originally published on January 2, 2016 10:37 am

In the face of growing protests, police departments across the country are pledging to try to reduce the use of deadly force.

This week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said his police department will double its supply of Tasers and will train officers to use them.

The Fayetteville, N.C., police department will spend the next year and a half trying to implement 76 recommendations issued in December by the Department of Justice. Those recommendations range from better record keeping and better information-sharing to trying to reduce the racial disparity in traffic stops.

Police Chief Harold Medlock tells NPR's Scott Simon that he requested the Justice Department review.

"I was hired three years ago as a result of some difficult times in the city involving disparity of traffic stops; also the concern over consent searches during traffic stops," Medlock says. "Fayetteville Police Department was the fourth in the nation to have DOJ come in under the collaborative reform process and make these recommendations."

At the time, Fayetteville police officers were still allowed to shoot at moving vehicles and to fire warning shots.

"Those practices just are not acceptable in policing today," Medlock says. "As soon as we heard those recommendations, even from a draft perspective, from the experts that came in, we made those changes immediately."

He says his department has shifted officers away from making traffic stops for minor infractions, like expired tags or broken taillights, and toward stops for moving violations, such as speeding or running stop signs.

"By moving away from regulatory violations to moving violations, we have started to make our stops less disparate, and we have increased the citizens' satisfaction with the way we do business. We've also saved lives over the last couple of years as a result of doing that in our city."


Interview Highlights

On the use of Tasers

As one who has been Tased as part of my training, [I can say] it is a horrible experience. What that taught me was we need to be very careful in deploying that piece of equipment. But it certainly bridges the gap between known deadly force of the firearm and hands-on force or some other type of equipment.

On the importance of de-escalating police encounters

What we have done over the last couple of years is encourage and train our officers to go a little bit slower when it is possible, and when someone's life is not immediately in danger, to try to de-escalate a situation and not have to use any force at all. As a result of that, we've been very successful: Our injuries to officers have gone down, our injuries to the public have gone down, our uses of force overall have gone down, and our public satisfaction with the way we deliver services has increased.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Police departments across the country are now pledging to try to reduce their use of deadly force. This week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that his police department will double its supply of Tasers and will train officers to use them. The Fayetteville, N.C,, Police Department will spend the next year and a half trying to implement 76 recommendations issued by the Department of Justice. Those recommendations range from better record keeping to better information sharing to trying to reduce the racial disparity between the number of blacks and whites who are pulled over at traffic stops. Police Chief Harold Medlock requested the Justice Department review his police department. Chief Medlock joins us now. Thanks very much for being with us.

HAROLD MEDLOCK: Scott, it's good to be with you. I hope you're doing well.

SIMON: Yes, sir, thank you. And, you know, usually police chiefs try and keep the feds out. Why did you invite them in?

MEDLOCK: Well, I think, Scott, we are - in our city - coming out of a time - in fact, I was hired three years ago as a result of some difficult times in the city involving disparity of traffic stops and also the concern over consent searches during traffic stops. As I reached out to the COPS Office for the...

SIMON: The COPS Office is an acronym for...

MEDLOCK: Community Oriented Policing Services - it's part of the Department of Justice.

SIMON: Yeah.

MEDLOCK: Fayetteville Police Department was the fourth in the nation to have DOJ to come in under the collaborative reform process and make these recommendations.

SIMON: And what recommendations - 'cause there are quite a slew of them - strike you as most urgent?

MEDLOCK: Well, you know, there were a couple that concerned me greatly. And I'll give you a really easy one. Our policies in Fayetteville still allow officers to shoot at moving vehicles and also fire warning shots. And those practices just are not acceptable in policing today. And as soon as we heard those recommendations even from the draft perspective from the experts that came in, we made those changes immediately.

SIMON: When you talk about reducing the racial disparity of traffic stops, that certainly sounds like a good and decent goal. But does it mean not stopping people who seem to drive in an unsteady or belligerent manner just because you're worried about your statistics?

MEDLOCK: No. In fact, my expectation is - and I think most officers expectation - and certainly our citizens in our city expect us to deal with drunk drivers or folks who are driving recklessly immediately and appropriately, which means making a traffic stop, pulling that dangerous person off of the roadway and enforcing the traffic laws. But the way we have gone about starting to improve the purity (ph) is simply by enforcing it. We have moved our officers out of neighborhoods and having them stop people in neighborhoods for what I would call an equipment or regulatory violation - in other words, someone with an expired tag or an expired inspection sticker we have those in North Carolina or a broken tail light - and dealing with the things that save people's lives in our city. Those include speeding, drunk driving, reckless driving, red light violations, stop sign violations. And so by moving away from regulatory violations to moving violations, we have started to make our stops less disparate.

SIMON: Does the Fayetteville department have Tasers?

MEDLOCK: Absolutely. Every one of my officers are equipped with the latest generation Taser.

SIMON: Are Tasers necessarily less violent than guns?

MEDLOCK: No, sir. As one who has been Tased as part of my training, it is a horrible experience. And what that taught me was that we need to be very careful in deploying that piece of equipment. But it certainly bridges the gap between known deadly force with a firearm and hands-on use of force or some other type of equipment. But, Scott, there's a piece of this that folks seem to forget and that is the whole de-escalation piece of interacting with the public. What we have done over the last couple of years is encourage and train our officers to go a little bit slower when it is possible and when someone's life is not immediately in danger to try to de-escalate a situation and not have to use any force at all. And as a result of that, we've been very successful. Our injuries to officers have gone down. Our injuries to the public have gone down. Our uses of force overall have gone down. And our public satisfaction with the way we deliver services has increased.

SIMON: Harold Medlock, police chief of Fayetteville, N.C., thank you very much for being with us.

MEDLOCK: Thank you, Scott. Have a happy new year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.