Winston-Salem, NC -- Police Chief Scott Cunningham says his department's new policy for stationary traffic checkpoints is a "substantial enhancement" over the old guidelines and will "be the best one in the state."
The license checkpoint changes come after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) complained about the existing policy back in 2010, and said the way officers conducted checkpoints unfairly targeted minorities.
Chief Cunningham is adamant that his officers don't zero in on minorities, but he admits the ACLU's complaint is responsible for these changes. New procedures will make for better record-keeping and more transparency.
Under the new guidelines, a lieutenant has to approve the checkpoint, which wasn't the case before. The pattern for which cars will be stopped (whether it's every other car, every third car, etc.) will be determined beforehand -- and a sergeant and at least two officers must be present for the duration of the event. Police car dash-cam video will be running to record flow of traffic and ensure pattern is executed as planned. And Cunningham says once the checkpoint is over, officers will document everything and include the data in a monthly report.
The chief says he's happy to make the improvements, but he isn't pleased with ACLU's accusations of bias.
"We don't mind scrutiny," he said. "But what we expect is fair scrutiny. ... The ACLU does some good things out there. But they don't like checkpoints. And the fact that we're going to do them is probably going to cause them some heartburn.
"But they are allowed by law, they are viable tools, they are legal and we are going to be doing them in a way that is completely transparent and open and above board."
Here's a quick refresher on what Winston-Salem's checkpoints do. Officers use statistics about driving violations to stop traffic in known trouble spots and ask for licenses. Sometimes they also choose "random" locations, which is where the ACLU grew concerned. The goal of both kinds of checkpoints is to get drivers who don't have licenses off the road, Cunningham said.
And even though the chief says his officers do all that fairly, they will receive some added training about bias between now and Oct. 1. That's also when the chief plans to roll out the new system for documenting checkpoints and the methods officers use for setting them up.
Cunningham says he plans to present a report to the city council's Public Safety Committee in January based on what the new data shows. He says his department hasn't conducted any stationary license checkpoints in 2012 while it worked to hammer out the new system.
An attorney for the ACLU told WFMY News 2 that the group is "encouraged" by the changes but "discouraged" they took so long to happen. They'll be keeping a "watchful eye" on Winston-Salem, that attorney said, to make sure the department follows through -- and won't rule out further action if they don't like what they see.
WFMY News 2