Consultant Says CMPD And City Weren't Prepared For Protests

Oct 3, 2017

A consultant with the Police Foundation told Charlotte City Council Monday night that CMPD properly followed its own policies last year as it responded to violence following the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. But he said CMPD and city officials weren't fully prepared for the protests.

Foundation consultant Frank Straub told the council the draft report is not final and likely will change based on feedback gathered in the coming weeks. In general, he said CMPD's response was timely and appropriate.   

“We believe through our analysis that CMPD's response was consistent with policies and procedures and national best practices,” Straub said.

But demonstrations in Charlotte and around the country are different from the past, and require new approaches, said Straub. He said CMPD should look at how it trains units that respond to impromptu demonstrations.

“The demonstrations here were highly mobile. There were a number of different leaders within the groups that demonstrated. They moved around the city,” he said.

In more traditional protests, said Straub, organizers typically meet with police to discuss their plans and map out routes.

“And so those traditional lines of communication pre-demonstration didn't really happen in this case,” he said. “In fact, what we saw is multiple demonstration sites, taking place in different parts of the city. Different community leaders, some that interacted well with others, some that didn't.”

Better training is a key focus among the report's 35 recommendations. CMPD is already doing some of what the foundation suggests. Straub said that before the Democratic National Convention in 2012, CMPD trained all its officers in responding to civil disturbances.  

“Since 2012, some of that training had dropped off. So one of our recommendations is, that again, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department revisit that issue and seek to provide at least baseline training for all officers,” Straub said.

He said basic skills for all officers - not just specialized units - should include effective dialogue with demonstrators and de-escalation techniques.

Straub repeated the report's call for better coordination between the city and CMPD before demonstrations, to avoid what the reviewers called "inconsistent messaging" that led to a "media whirlwind" over issues such as the release of body cam video and general dissemination of information.  

One thing not in the draft report is a review of a decision by CMPD and the city not to call in the National Guard on the day after the Scott shooting. That's likely to be in the final report, said Straub.

“I think what the city council has made clear to us is that they want us to look at some of those broader issues relative to when the National Guard came, the state of emergency. They asked about the curfew, specifically. So those issues will be addressed in the final report,” he said.

But he said the review won't get into the politics behind those decisions.

Another recommendation is that CMPD issue body cameras to all officers who respond to civil unrest.

That's already happening, too. In an earlier presentation to the council Monday, Debra Campbell of the City Manager's office said the department has issued more than 1,900 additional body cams. They've gone to all officers below deputy chief, including SWAT and violent criminal apprehension teams.

COUNCIL CRITICISMS 

Council members offered a few pointed criticisms of the report.  Julie Eiselt, who chairs the council's public safety committee, said the review echoes general recommendations of President Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing. But she and other council members want more specific next steps.

“I can't emphasize enough how much more we really do want to get into addressing community issues as a city, not just the police department, that we know are unique to Charlotte,” she said.

Council member Greg Phipps wanted more details on the supposed involvement of groups from outside Charlotte.

And Ed Driggs was concerned that the review didn't go far enough to include the voices of those who were protesting. He asked:  Will people feel their concerns are being addressed?

One answer came afterward from protester Braxton Winston, now a Democratic nominee for a city council at large seat. He said the reviewers talked to him in a group meeting.

“But no, my voice was not expressed in the presentation tonight,” Winston said.  

At least in its draft form, Winston says it looks like the city paid a lot of money for a report that's basically "a pat on the back" for CMPD.

Straub couldn't say how long it would take to gather feedback and deliver a final report. The $380,000 contract runs for one year, ending Dec. 15.

Campbell's presentation earlier  was based on a website and printed report the city has published called  "One Year Later."  She outlined accomplishments by the city staff since last year's shooting and protests in areas such as youth development, public safety and affordable housing.

She mentioned that CMPD has been offering "transparency workshops" to help citizens better understand how CMPD works.   

She also repeated the city's goal - in a "letter to the community" a year ago, of creating 5,000 affordable housing units within three years - instead of the previous goal of five years.  Campbell noted that the council's recent approval of 769 new units in five projects puts the city about 60 percent of the way to its goal.  RELATED LINKS

City of Charlotte "One Year Later" website, http://cltoneyearlater.com/

Sept. 19, 2017, CharlotteNC.gov, full draft report of The Police Foundation

Sept. 19, 2017, CharlotteNC.gov press release, "City of Charlotte releases the Police Foundation's draft of the critical incident review." 

SPECIAL REPORT

See a one-year-anniversary special report on the Keith Lamont Scott killing