Policing in Eastern Carolina: Community Expectations

Policing in Eastern Carolina: Community Expectations
Published: May. 17, 2023 at 7:03 PM EDT
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EASTERN CAROLINA, N.C. (WITN) - As we continue our week-long series Policing in Eastern Carolina, we’re looking at the actions of officers and the split-second decisions they sometimes have to make.

Tuesday we put the spotlight on how dangerous of a profession this can be for those who serve and protect. Last year 246 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty across the U.S.

There are also encounters that end up deadly for members of the public.

The government agency National Institutes of Health says about 1,000 people are killed every year by law enforcement in the U.S.

The nonprofit organization Mapping Police Violence says 1,194 people were killed by police in 2022. They say that is the highest number in the past decade.

Sometimes those deaths, while unfortunate, are justified. Other times they are not.

Here in Eastern Carolina this year there have been at least four officer-involved shootings. Shootings in Rocky Mount and Windsor resulted in injuries, while those in Wallace and Lenoir County were deadly. All of those cases remain under investigation.

We’re examining how community groups are working with law enforcement to reduce those encounters.

From Tyre Nichols to George Floyd and Michael Brown, the images of deadly police encounters across the country are seared into our minds.

They are the very thing that law enforcement in the east and community members do not want to see happen here.

In Eastern Carolina, the most high-profile recent officer-involved death was that of Andrew Brown Junior in April of 2021 by members of the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s Office as they were serving drug-related warrants at his Elizabeth City home.

The district attorney ruled the officer’s actions justified, saying Brown used his car as a weapon. The sheriff’s office did pay the Brown family $3 million to settle a civil suit.

Pasquotank County NAACP President Keith Rivers says the push for change continues. “We have had a Police to Peace program where police came in and did an assessment of our city and county on how people in this county want to be policed and what improvements that could be made.”

But Rivers says that’s not enough. “There is no accountability that has been held. The deputies that fired the weapons into his car went back to work to business as usual and there’s been no accountability two years later.”

In other places like Kinston, the NAACP says they’ve been working with the police department over the years to open up the lines of communication and say that they’re pleased with the progress they’ve seen when it comes to police-community relations.

Barbara Sutton is the President Kinston-Lenoir County NAACP and says, “I believe that you have to give credit to where credit is due. I believe if you ask for change and you see change you have to applaud that change. Here I would have to say that we have seen change.”

Sutton says one driving force behind that is a program with police called the Disproportionate Minority Contact Reduction Initiative. “And what that did was put us in a space to have those hard conversations and as a result of that we went from conversations to action, in other words, putting things in place to bring about the change that we felt we needed as a community.”

And one of the things she says the two sides each wanted was mutual respect. “Law enforcement should be respected from the community and in return the community should also be respected by law enforcement.”

Sutton says crisis intervention training by police has also helped and become a valuable tool in de-escalating a situation, especially where a person may be having a mental health crisis.

Education is also part of the approach, working with the community, and with the schools. “And just to educate our young people as well on just how to interact, engage with law enforcement so at the end of the day, we can all get home safely.”

It is all an ongoing process communities and law enforcement all across the east continue to work on to hopefully avoid those kinds of deadly confrontations we have seen across the country. It’s an effort that Sutton says is producing results in Kinston. “Are we where we should be? Absolutely not. But have we made progress as a community and as KPD? We would have to say yes.”

Citizens academies and police-community relations boards are also ways communities and law enforcement across the east are working together for better outcomes for all.

We’ll hear from law enforcement leaders about all of this in our report on Friday.

We’ll continue our look at Policing in Eastern Carolina Thursday as we talk with students enrolled in Basic Law Enforcement Training classes at college about why they want to become law enforcement officers.

Click here to watch Tuesday’s report on Policing in Eastern Carolina: Deadly Dangers.

Click here to watch Monday’s report on Policing in Eastern Carolina: The Veteran and the Rookie.