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A North Carolina Police Department Improves Its Customer Satisfaction

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In the face of growing protests, police departments across the country are pledging to try to reduce the use of deadly force.

This week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said his police department will double its supply of Tasers and will train officers to use them.

The Fayetteville, N.C., police department will spend the next year and a half trying to implement 76 recommendations issued in December by the Department of Justice. Those recommendations range from better record keeping and better information-sharing to trying to reduce the racial disparity in traffic stops.

Police Chief Harold Medlock tells NPR's Scott Simon that he requested the Justice Department review.

"I was hired three years ago as a result of some difficult times in the city involving disparity of traffic stops; also the concern over consent searches during traffic stops," Medlock says. "Fayetteville Police Department was the fourth in the nation to have DOJ come in under the collaborative reform process and make these recommendations."

At the time, Fayetteville police officers were still allowed to shoot at moving vehicles and to fire warning shots.

"Those practices just are not acceptable in policing today," Medlock says. "As soon as we heard those recommendations, even from a draft perspective, from the experts that came in, we made those changes immediately."

He says his department has shifted officers away from making traffic stops for minor infractions, like expired tags or broken taillights, and toward stops for moving violations, such as speeding or running stop signs.

"By moving away from regulatory violations to moving violations, we have started to make our stops less disparate, and we have increased the citizens' satisfaction with the way we do business. We've also saved lives over the last couple of years as a result of doing that in our city."

Interview Highlights

On the use of Tasers

As one who has been Tased as part of my training, [I can say] it is a horrible experience. What that taught me was we need to be very careful in deploying that piece of equipment. But it certainly bridges the gap between known deadly force of the firearm and hands-on force or some other type of equipment.

On the importance of de-escalating police encounters

What we have done over the last couple of years is encourage and train our officers to go a little bit slower when it is possible, and when someone's life is not immediately in danger, to try to de-escalate a situation and not have to use any force at all. As a result of that, we've been very successful: Our injuries to officers have gone down, our injuries to the public have gone down, our uses of force overall have gone down, and our public satisfaction with the way we deliver services has increased.

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