Discussions Underway Regarding Task Force’s Public Safety Recommendations
The Mayor’s Task Force on Re-imagining Public Safety has completed recommendations for the Hillsborough Police Department and on a standing advisory board for public safety.
The Hillsborough Board of Commissioners began discussing the recommendations and the Police Department’s response last week at the board’s monthly work session. Commissioners will continue the discussion at their regular meeting next week — 7 p.m. March 14. Multiple discussions are expected to thoroughly discuss the recommendations, and the public will be provided an opportunity at a date still to be determined for input on the recommendations and draft actions. Public comment is allowed at the board’s regular meetings, which take place the second Monday of each month.
The Mayor’s Task Force on Re-imagining Public Safety was formed in November 2020 to determine whether the town should have a standing advisory board on public safety and what it should look like. The task force submitted draft recommendations in late October 2021, strongly recommending the creation of a standing advisory board and providing recommendations for that board’s work. The task force also submitted recommendations for the Police Department that covered: mental health crisis response, traffic stops, use of force, and department procedures.
“The task force was asked to make recommendations without constraint, understanding that legal or financial barriers could prevent full adoption,” Mayor Jenn Weaver said. “Approaching it this way allows the town board to see what the task force would truly like to see for public safety in the community and illuminates how close or far we are from being able to meet the needs and desires as presented. I am so thankful for the time and effort task force members put into this.”
At the Feb. 28 discussion, the Board of Commissioners and Police Chief Duane Hampton were able to discuss the first two sets of recommendations on mental health crisis response and traffic stops.
The mayor noted two principles to keep in mind during discussions:
Keep shared interests of a safe Hillsborough rather than individual positions at the forefront.
Be deliberate in the process, taking as many meetings as needed to complete the review and proposal for action on the recommendations.
On the mental health crisis response recommendations, board members were supportive of the spirit of the recommendations, which are:
Collaborate with other local jurisdictions to pool funding resources and develop a coordinated, countywide mobile mental health crisis response service.
Increase related training.
Allocate funding to add a minimum of one to two social workers (or similarly trained staff) to the town.
Board members conceded that people in mental health crisis do need help and that the system broadly does not meet their needs. However, the board noted the town does not have the resources or capacity to address these issues on its own but is interested in working with others and thinking creatively about how to meet mental health crisis needs.
On the traffic stop recommendations:
Recommendation 1 to expand the current traffic stop reporting data set to include all significant citizen interactions — Board consensus was supportive of the action items the Police Department is working on to address these, including a quarterly reporting system to be made available to the public. The board also plans to engage with task force members to find out exactly what information they want to see. The mayor had noted that many task force members were not aware of the reporting that the Police Department already does, such as community summits and monthly reports in the meeting packets for the town board. Part of the solution is to think more about how to effectively communicate the information, she said.
Recommendation 2 on not making traffic stops as a pretext for suspect criminal behavior and on limiting investigation to the reason for the stop — The police chief stated it is hard to tell an officer to not look any further in a traffic stop because an officer’s job is to look for clues. The board was supportive of the department continuing to monitor and review officer performance internally and to review any complaints received regarding inappropriate use of authority.
Recommendation 3 on ceasing low level, regulatory traffic stops — There was support for the five action items listed in the police chief’s response. These include the department’s emphasis on enforcement of safety-related and moving violations over non-moving violations and monitoring trends and resulting data across the country.
Recommendation 4 on implementing the use of a written consent card — This recommendation relates to consent searches. There was support for allowing verbal consent to continue to be captured by officers’ body worn cameras with the addition of standardized language for officers to use as well as written rights to be provided to those being asked for consent.
Recommendation 5 on helping provide assistance for fixing minor vehicle maintenance issues and for paying registration and insurance renewals, including through support of the Orange County Criminal Justice Debt Program — It was noted that the debt program provides support for court costs and not the items listed in the recommendation. There was discussion about adding a proposal for support of the debt program to the upcoming budget process and seeking a legal answer on what type of assistance the town could provide. The board expressed interest in the possibility of partnering with local repair shops to fix minor vehicle issues for Hillsborough residents. However, due to the amount of time and potential resources that might be involved, it was suggested that alternative options should be considered that may help a greater number of people. The board intends to return to this topic as it assesses top priorities among the recommendations.
Recommendation 6 on ceasing regulatory checkpoints — There was support for allowing the Police Department to continue to have the option to use checkpoints sparingly.
“There are places in here where there is really movement to be made on these recommendations made by the task force,” the mayor said following the town board’s three-hour discussion of the first two sets of recommendations. “I think that it’s great that there are these places of alignment and congruency. They may not look exactly like it’s worded in the recommendations. But I do think there are action items that reflect the spirit of what is desired.”
Town board meetings are streamed live on the town’s YouTube channel, and the public may attend by contacting the town clerk in advance. See the meeting's agenda for details on how to participate or provide public comment. Agendas are available through the town calendar on the home page of the website or through the Board of Commissioners webpage. See the Meeting Information section of the board’s page. The agenda packet for the March 14 meeting is provided below.
To view past presentations to the task force and other materials, see the task force’s webpage.