CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WJZY) – The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is changing the meaning of routine traffic stops.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden announced that deputies would no longer stop drivers for illegal tints, expired registration, or other regulatory offenses.
“When you talk about DUIs, speeding, reckless driving, they will be enforced,” McFadden said. “If we find other violations in that time, the officer has the discretion to cite them for it.”
The policy change is a part of an initiative by the law policy strategy group Forward Justice to address ongoing racial disparities in traffic stops. The group complies data from the State Bureau of Investigation on traffic stops in North Carolina. Data shows Black people make up 30% of the Mecklenburg County population but 47% of arrests.
“Traffic stops are the most common police interaction with community members,” Whitley Carpenter, counsel for Forward Justice, said. “They can lead to harmful and sometimes deadly interactions, particularly for people of color.”
Crunching the numbers and adjusting based on driving habits, researchers say Black drivers are 95% more likely to be stopped by police in North Carolina.
“Profiling is real, and I’m living proof,” McFadden said. “As an officer, I’ve been stopped eight or nine times, sometimes just going home at night.”
The new policy started on Sept. 19.
Deputies had to sign to acknowledge it and could face disciplinary action if violated.
“By implementing this policy and eliminating stops for low-level infractions that don’t contribute to public safety, we can begin to minimize unnecessary and potentially harmful interactions between law enforcement and the community,” Carpenter said.
Charlotte, Cornelius, Matthews, Pineville, Huntersville, Mint Hill, Stallings, and Davidson make up Mecklenburg County. Each municipality has its own police department.
WJZY reached out to all police departments in the county to ask if leaders would consider policy changes.
In an email, Stallings Police Chief Dennis Franks said:
“The Stallings Police Department takes a safe and proactive approach toward traffic enforcement. We utilize North Carolina General Statutes and officer discretion when making the determination to stop a vehicle. Our overarching effort is to keep Stallings residents and those who travel through our community safe. We accomplish this both by education and enforcement of motor vehicle laws. I do not see any conversations occurring to change the above-noted approach towards the enforcement of current traffic laws.”
In an email, Chief Kevin Black from Cornelius said:
“We have not discussed changing our vehicle stop policy at the Cornelius Police Department. We do conduct an annual review of our policies (General Orders) in compliance with our CALEA accreditation.”
Tim Aycock, Public Information Officer for Matthews Police, said:
“We currently do not have any plans to amend our policy regarding this.”
In an email, Chief Mike Hudgins said:
“The Pineville Police Department cares about the community it serves and strives to provide professional police services to everyone who lives, works, and shops in our Town. To ensure the safety of our community, the Pineville Police Department employs evidence-based best practices such as stratified policing, problem-solving policing, and hot spot policing. Weekly, the department’s command staff, monitors our enforcement activities to ensure our responses produce positive outcomes for our community members. With these safeguards in mind, the department will continue to enforce traffic infractions passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, and we will do so ethically and professionally.”
Charlotte Mecklenburg Police, the largest department in Mecklenburg County, did not answer our inquiry. Mint Hill, Davidson, and Huntersville also did not respond.
McFadden says he hopes other departments take a closer look at policy changes.
“When you look at the stats and deaths, somebody has to take that step,” Sheriff McFadden said. “I hope they take a look at what we’re doing and follow our lead.”
Forward Justice hopes to continue sitting down with law enforcement to discuss data-driven solutions to ongoing racial disparities.
“We are happy to work with other municipalities, departments, and officers to discuss data do analysis to understand what disparities look like and work with legal teams to develop policies,” Carpenter said.