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In North Carolina, undecided voters turn to police for answers

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Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (Getty Images)

DURHAM, N.C. — There are many key issues in this election. But there’s one issue that’s particularly important to some voters in the battleground state of North Carolina: Community-police relations

Community-police relations are strained in light of the police-involved shooting of Keith Scott and the riots that followed in Charlotte, and it’s leaving some voters undecided of which candidate to turn to.

“I’ve never seen an election where it’s so polarizing,” said Cassandra Johnson. “That’s very frustrating to me.”

Cassandra Johnson is African-American and lives in Durham, just two and a half hours from Charlotte.

“I think it’s in the back of people’s mind. Charlotte’s so close and you wouldn’t think something like Charlotte would happen,” said Johnston. “You just see kind of the potential that maybe it could happen here.”

Community-police relations have been a topic at the presidential debates. Hillary Clinton wants legislation that will end racial profiling by law enforcement. Donald Trump wants to bring back stop-and-frisk, which he says brought down New York City’s crime rate in the 1990s.

Undecided voter Lee Edsall, who is also from Durham, said this very topic has her questioning her choices for president.

“This is the first time I’ve had trouble deciding,” she said. “The job is just way too important. It literally could be the end of the world if you get somebody who’s likely to fire off nuclear weapons at 3 in the morning.”

Johnson and Edsall are frustrated with their options for president. They’re also frustrated with police-community relations in their state. They decided to seek answers with the Durham Police Department and signed up for the Citizens Police Academy. It’s a once a year, the six-week program where residents meet with various departments from the Durham police.

According to the Durham police, this year they had the most applications for the program to date. Residents had candid conversations with officers about race and bias and participated in a shooting simulation where residents got to experience the split-second decisions officer have to make.

“I can understand why people can make the wrong decision in some cases,” said Johnson after she watched her colleagues go through the simulation. “Not because it’s with malicious intent, but because it’s a split decision.”

Part of the program is designed to let officers take a pulse of the community. They need residents to be on their side in order to help keep their communities safe.

“I would think that folks in the community may not fully trust police officers,” said Officer Laurence Brown, who runs the program. “It’s our job to meet them more than halfway.”

Johnson and Edsall know their vote is more valuable than ever, which is why they’re weighing their options heavily.

“I can’t get past the things he said about women or African-Americans,” Johnson said of Trump. “But there are pieces of his platform that I like. I just wish that someone else was saying them.”

She also has hesitation about Clinton.

“Her untruthfulness about the emails, Benghazi, I just don’t feel she’s as honest,” she said.