In 2009, a sheriff’s deputy in mostly rural Orange County pulled over slightly more than 100 drivers. In most cases, the deputy determined equipment in the driver’s vehicle was malfunctioning and in a few that the vehicle was traveling unsafely along the road. The deputy stopped drivers for reasons that starkly contrasted those of most Orange County deputies, who pulled over a majority for unsafe driving and a relative few for malfunctioning equipment.
But years later, local defense attorneys noticed the deputy for a different trend: 61 percent of the drivers the deputy pulled over in the overwhelmingly white American county were of Hispanic origin. And a vast majority of the drivers whose vehicles the deputy searched were of Hispanic origin. None of those searches netted any contraband.
The website OpenDataPolicingNC.com, launched this week by the liberal advocacy group Southern Coalition for Social Justice, shows traffic stop information for all North Carolina law enforcement agencies and individual officers since 2000, including criteria such as the reason for the stop and the race and ethnicity of the driver being stopped.
Ian Mance, a Southern Coalition for Social Justice attorney, created the website with the help of three volunteer programmers from Durham over the last year, using data publicly available through the North Carolina Department of Justice. The site has tools that can help anyone track the patrol habits of entire agencies or individual officers, who are identified only by a tracking number.
In Orange County, prosecutors have dropped charges in several cases handled by the sheriff’s deputy No. 2089, who stopped a number of Hispanic drivers disproportionate with the county’s population, Mance said.
“If you are the chief and this officer is on your force, you'd prefer to know about this information prior to it getting to it the point where cases are getting tossed out of court,” Mance said.
Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock likes the idea of open data and welcomes the public having access to information on his department’s traffic stops.
“The days of policing in secret are over,” Medlock said Thursday. “I think this legitimizes us. Folks start to understand, ‘Hey, this is not as easy of a job as I thought it was.’ And it also allows them an opportunity to say, ‘Well, chief, did you think about this perspective or this idea?’ ”
How to find data an officer's traffic enforcement information:
- Visit OpenDataPolicingNC.com
- Click on “Find a Stop”
- Enter the date of a stop, the name of the agency and the name and other information of the driver who was stopped
- Manually find the corresponding stop
- Click on the Officer ID. The ID is not a badge number. It is used only for traffic records