Chapel Hill releases report on "Occupy" arrests

January 8, 2012 1:04:35 PM PST
The actions of on-scene police commanders confronting a group of people who had taken over the vacant Yates Motor Company building in November were the best decisions that could be made given the information available at the time, but the detention of two members of the media should be a learning experience, according to a new report by Town Manager Roger L. Stancil. The report - largely supportive of the Chapel Hill Police Department's actions - was released in a late-night e-mail to the community Friday.

In the report, Stancil concludes that the objective of removing those who had entered vacant property without the property owner's consent was accomplished without injury to anyone, and with the least disruption to others not involved in the taking of the building.

Stancil also says the building was unfit for human occupancy, and that two attempts to communicate with the group inside led to the belief that the group - described as "anarchist," and loosely associated with the Occupy Chapel Hill movement - intended to permanently occupy the building.

The town manager also addressed the department's use of its Special Emergency Response Team - or SERT - saying that responding with specially-trained officers was appropriate, because of their continuous training for special situations.

Stancil also squarely put the responsibility of decisions made that day on the shoulders of Chapel Hill police chief Chris Blue, and his assistant chiefs.

The only portion of the report mildly critical of police actions during the November 13th action pertained to two reporters who were detained while attempting to cover the arrests.

Stancil notes that "the police and the press need each other in such situations," and says, "we need to learn from this experience and jointly develop a policy of how we mutually interact at crime scenes and other situations where we both need to be able to do our jobs without interfering with each other."

To that end, Stancil says he and Chief Blue have met with two newspapers and a radio station to discuss a new media relations policy.

Overall, Stancil says the next step is to "engage the best professionals to assist us in identifying and adopting best practices for policing in the future to help us develop and enhance our policies. This is critical as we have grown from a village to a small city with the same challenges as our larger neighbors in the Triangle. We will seek public involvement in this process so these policies are based on community expectations and our organizational values."

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