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Research Questions

  1. How can the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, enable civilian personnel to perform low-risk police duties?
  2. How extensive are racial/ethnic biases or disparities in policing in Charlotte?
  3. How should Charlotte expand its Community Policing Crisis Response Team (CPCRT) and develop a model that uses nonpolice responders for mental health and homeless calls?

Under contract with Charlotte, North Carolina, the authors evaluated three of the six policing and public-safety recommendations in the city's SAFE Charlotte: Safety and Accountability for Everyone report. Recommendation 2 is about developing ways to implement a civilian response for low-risk duties. Recommendation 3 requested independent analysis of police–community member contact to determine the extent to which racial/ethnic bias is evident in policing in Charlotte. Recommendation 4 states that Charlotte's Community Policing Crisis Response Team should be expanded, and a specialized civilian responder model should be explored for those experiencing mental health crisis and homelessness.

The authors recommend two pilot programs: (1) a new team of clinicians who would deploy in pairs to provide services that could help address substance abuse, mental health, and homelessness and (2) a program that would delegate low-risk, low-priority calls to nonspecialized civilian responders. The estimated costs for the clinician team pilot would be approximately $850,000 for the first year. The estimated costs for the pilot of civilian responders for low-risk, low-priority calls would be approximately $1.4 million to $1.85 million for the first year. Local stakeholders should be involved in every aspect of development and implementation of all potential programs — from hiring to uniforms. The authors analyzed stop data, arrest data, and complaint data and found that Black residents in Charlotte were more likely to be stopped both as a driver and as a pedestrian and, when stopped, were more likely to be arrested.

Key Findings

The authors analyzed all calls for service in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) system from 2015 through 2020

  • The most frequent routine-priority call types were noise complaints, traffic accidents and infractions, and thefts from vehicles.
  • Routine-priority calls accounted for 10 to 20 percent of calls at all hours of the day.
  • Illegal parking, found property, sharing or requesting information, picking up property or evidence, and road blockages were the routine-priority call types associated with the lowest risk.
  • A total of 261,439 calls (7 percent of all calls) were potentially related to mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness.
  • Calls flagged as potentially related to mental health were overwhelmingly welfare checks (73.6 percent).
  • Calls flagged for substance abuse were most often overdoses (54.1 percent).

Black residents in Charlotte were more likely to be stopped both as a driver and as a pedestrian and, when stopped, were more likely to be arrested

  • The rate at which Black motorists were stopped was two to three times higher than the rate at which White motorists were stopped.
  • Black pedestrians were stopped at much higher rates than White pedestrians were.
  • White pedestrians were stopped at higher rates than Asian and Hispanic pedestrians were.
  • Black motorists were requested for a consent to search at much higher rates than White motorists were.
  • Asian motorists were much less likely to be stopped, much less likely to be requested for a consent to search when they were stopped, and less likely to be arrested as a result of a stop.

Recommendations

  • CMPD should expand the funding and capacity of CPCRT, which deploys police officers alongside mental health clinicians to provide critical mental health care.
  • CMPD should pilot a new specialized civilian team of clinicians who would deploy in pairs to provide services that could help address substance abuse, mental health, and homelessness.
  • CMPD should pilot a team of nonspecialized civilian responders to respond to low-risk, low-priority calls.
  • Local stakeholders should be involved in every aspect of development and implementation of all potential programs &mash; from hiring to uniforms.
  • The pilot programs should be placed in areas with high demand and low violent crime rates, such as CMPD's Central District and Providence or North Tryon.
  • CMPD should clarify that data on all stops should be entered into the stop data set.
  • CMPD should improve linkages for entries in different data sets around outcomes of interest (e.g., use of force, complaints) that could occur during a call for service.
  • CMPD should track and make officer injury data and narrative data available in its internal data sets.
  • CMPD should implement programs to increase trust and legitimacy, improve perceptions of police, and improve treatment of citizens in general. Specific recommendations involve engaging in positive, nonenforcement actions with citizens and training officers in procedural justice. Additionally, reprioritizing traffic stops and enforcement to focus on crash reductions and moving violations can reduce disparities, improve public safety, and enable a move away from aggressive or zero-tolerance models, as appropriate.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the City of Charlotte, North Carolina and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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