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The Kirby File: Councilman points to disparity of Black motorist traffic stops

'If there was any indication that there was bias or some kind of racial input on the front end by one of our officers, we would definitely take care of that,' Fayetteville Police Chief Kem Braden says, 'because that would be illegal.'


Mario Benavente is the activist-turned-city councilman, and when it comes to fair and equal treatment of traffic stops in the city, he passionately argues that the numbers just aren’t equal for Black motorists.

He took Kem Braden, the city police chief who is a year into the job, to task Monday night after Braden presented the department’s crime statistics for 2023 to the Fayetteville City Council. Included in the chief’s report: Black drivers were stopped at twice the rate of white motorists.

In other words, the 34-year-old councilman said, when it comes to racial profiling, it’s 2011 all over again under then-police chief Tom Bergamine, who argued it just wasn’t so and that police officers only were doing their jobs in heavy crime areas. “Driving While Black” polarized the city more than a decade ago. Eventually, Bergamine called it quits and retired.

Now, Braden finds himself dealing with it.

“As a police officer, I can put no racial input or bias into the reason for a stop,” Braden told Benavente during Monday’s council meeting. “The outcomes, what the race or the color of the driver is once that stop is conducted, is something I have no control over.”

Benavente pointed to the numbers in support of his argument — 31,816 traffic stops of Black motorists compared to 16,230 traffic stops of white motorists. In Benavente’s words, the council’s Community Safety Committee needs to be looking into the disparity and reporting back to elected officials, so the council can rectify this “fundamental cultural shift the city of Fayetteville needs to undergo.”

“There were 31,816 stops on Black drivers that resulted in 1,313 searches of vehicles,” Braden said Monday night. “That’s about 4% of the actual traffic stops. Out of those actual searches, drugs were found in 608 incidents and weapons were found in 256 incidents.”

Those stops, the chief said, were initiated as a result of “probable cause.”

Of the 16,230 stops of white motorists, Braden said, there were 296 vehicle searches.

“That accounts for about 2% of the vehicles stopped,” the chief said. “Out of the 296 vehicle searches, drugs were found in 127 incidents and weapons in 41.”

Those stops, Braden said again, were initiated because of “probable cause.”

Braden acknowledged to council members there are disparities throughout the 2023 FPD crime report, from aggravated assaults to robberies to juvenile crimes. And all, he said, give him pause and concern.

But, the police chief told Benavente, he has “found no evidence that we have biased input from the police department” that would impact the data. 

City police, he said, are doing what the council and the community are asking of the department — keep this city safe.

“The thing that hasn't been proven throughout these years is that there's the disparate or biased acts on our police officers that lead to these stops,” Braden said. “What I argue is that if we have valid probable cause, where they're taking enforcement actions that you — that our community is asking us to do — we can't be held accountable for the outcomes of the race of those drivers when we’re there doing the things we've been asked to do. Like I said, if there was any indication that there was bias or some kind of racial input on the front end by one of our officers, we would definitely take care of that, because that would be illegal.” 

If the councilman was looking for support from fellow council members, he wouldn’t find it in Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Keefe Jensen nor would he find it from Councilman Derrick Thompson.

“We’re not police officers,” Jensen told the council. “We’re not out there.”

The councilwoman said it right.

So did Thompson.

“I don’t think we should ever get into the business of trying to tell the police how to police,” Thompson said. “I will never go for that. I think if we have a concern or issue about any specific area, we bring it to the police chief's attention and we let him figure it out with him and his staff. They're the experts in this field and we are not.”

Good news, and not so good 

For the most part, the news was somewhat encouraging for city residents. With the exception of a record 52 homicides, the chief said, sexual assaults, domestic violence and property crimes are down, although motor vehicle thefts are up 27.7% and robberies up by 8.2%.

Some other not-so-good news is that the Fayetteville Police Department is down 69 sworn officers. Where once there were teams of 60 officers covering three city district shifts, now you’ll find about 40.

Retirements and resignations have taken a toll, Braden said, because of city police salaries and other police departments that pay more with lesser crime.

“We’re in a precarious situation,” Braden told me.

Recruiting, City Manager Douglas Hewett said, will be a priority in the coming months.


Hard to disagree with Councilman Benavente about the apparent appearance of disparity in police traffic stops in the city.

Or to turn a blind eye.

The numbers are what they are: Black motorists are stopped more than white motorists, or at least they were in 2023.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

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kirby file, fayetteville police department, police chief braden, kem braden, mario benavente, traffic stop racial disparities