Charlotte’s Police Chief Kerr Putney says the ordeal surrounding the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott this summer has been tough on his department and its officers.
Wednesday morning, the district attorney announced the officer involved in the shooting, Brentley Vinson, will not face criminal charges in the incident. Since then, there's been a hint of tension in the air. Protesters were already angry at the shooting. Now, some are furious at the decision not to charge the officer.
In a recent interview with WBTV, Putney addressed issues ranging from Officer Vinson’s return to work to the department’s pledge of more transparency.
“My focus is on this organization, this community and moving forward. We have a lot of healing to do. A lot of people are hurting," Putney said. "We have at least two families that have been devastated. We’re trying to pick up the pieces with our community and move forward.”
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Putney said he has spoken with Vinson. He said the shooting hasn't been easy for the officer, despite being cleared.
"I wouldn’t categorize it as relief," Putney said. "Nobody puts on this uniform and comes to work any day of the week expecting to take a life. That’s not what we’re here for. It’s not what we’re about."
The chief said Vinson isn't back on the job yet.
"The internal investigation has to run its course then we can talk about how he returns to work."
Meanwhile, even though the district attorney laid out the evidence that led to the decision that criminal charges are not warranted, some in the community still criticize the the way the case was handled.
"I think the DA said something that resonates with me. It’s about responsible transparency. That’s what we see. It’s got to be balanced. I’m not going to hamper an investigation," Putney said. "I’m not going to adversely impact the prosecution’s building of a case. I’ll take my licks for doing so but I think it’s the right thing to do and I stand by that decision."
Wednesday night, a group of protesters chanted outside CMPD headquarters and then marched around uptown Charlotte.
"I don’t know that I can reach everybody to change minds but I want to change outcomes. I want to engage the community and proactively work to get a deeper understanding of people who are different than ourselves," Putney said.
The chief continued, "I want to double down on the work we’re doing around implicit bias. I want to engage in the difficult conversation around race and disproportionate outcomes in race as it relates to the criminal justice system and other systems in this community. I want to break the cycle. I want to continue to divert kids out of the system in the first place. I want to continue doing the work we’ve been tasked with and pledging ourselves to."
Putney said even protesters have to come to the table.
"Now it’s time to have other community members – even those who are protesting us – step up and do some of that work with us."
Only the protesters know how long they plan to demonstrate.
"As long as those people weren’t looting, rioting, assaulting our officers and other people, we’re going to allow for them to have that expression," Putney said. "And that’s where we draw the line."
For people who work in uptown, and visitors - the chief said the area is safe.
"Downtown continues to be one of the safest areas of the town. We have plenty of people who are working to ensure that safety. We want people to express that first amendment right they have, we’re going to protect them. That’s part of what we do and how we do it," he said, adding, "I think last night was a success towards that end and our people have been highly trained to do that work and they’re going to continue to do it to make Charlotte a safer city."
Putney said the department is working on training officers to handle certain cases. Family members said Scott was on medication for traumatic brain injury. Critics of the fatal shooting said officers should have de-escalated the situation, not fire bullets.
"We have a lot of training around special populations, which is mental illness and populations outside of the normal course that we encounter. We have C-IT training that we’ve been talking a lot about [critical incident training] and crisis intervention training and our issue is it’s hard to get all of our people to 40 hours of training so we implemented a signs and symptoms course - we call it mental health first aid."
Putney said officers "see the signs and symptoms of mental issues and you can deal with it accordingly."
He said, "Everybody is asking about de-escalation and we have to have that but it starts with people understanding the need to come together, communicate, and give some level of compliance so we can get an understanding of what we’re dealing with, then de-escalate the situation. But there’s a lot of training we do. The mental health first aid is 8 hours and the CIT training that we touched on is 40 hours."
Putney said the work is about "now."
"I feel ready to go to work," he said, "roll my sleeves up, meet this community to get the work done to be pro-active to make this a better Charlotte."