An outside agency commissioned to review how the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department responded to last September’s protests following Keith Scott’s death made 35 recommendations for improvements or changes.
Many of the recommendations – detailed in a draft report, released by the city late Tuesday – focus on community relations, officer training and communication strategies within the department. Overall, the report – which cost the city nearly $380,000 – concludes CMPD personnel followed department policies and procedures as police responded to several days of mass demonstrations.
The report details officers who were injured during the protest period and points to policing challenges as demonstrators grew in numbers and offshoots of the protests included looting, smashed windows, a shutdown of Interstate 85 and one murder.
Those who participated in the protests have criticized CMPD’s use of tear gas, tactical “riot” uniform gear and rubber bullets. Officers told the consultants who wrote the report that some protesters threw bottles, rocks and firework-like explosives at them.
Wednesday was the one-year mark of Scott dying in the fatal CMPD shooting and the start of days of civil unrest in Charlotte.
In the weeks after Scott’s death, Charlotte City Council commissioned an in-depth review of the protests that unfolded and how police responded. The report – written by the Washington, D.C.-based Police Foundation – focuses on police actions but also scrutinizes how some of Charlotte’s elected officials reacted during the protest period. The report mentions some City Council members gave media interviews and created “multiple sources of information and inconsistent messaging from the city.”
The only person on council the foundation directly criticizes, though, is Mayor Jennifer Roberts.
“The mayor’s decision to create discrepancies in the public messaging contributed to the media whirlwind that the CMPD Public Affairs Office had to react to during the incident response,” the foundation researchers concluded.
That is a reference to a column the mayor wrote that said the city should have released the police body and dash camera footage earlier and that Charlotte needed to be more transparent.
But, Roberts didn’t release that column until Sept. 26, 2016 – six days after Scott was killed and after riots in Charlotte had ceased. At the height of the protests and in the days immediately following Scott’s death, Roberts’ public position was in line with CMPD Chief Kerr Putney. In a news conference Sept. 23, 2016, Roberts supported the chief's decision to not release the footage.
The foundation report does not address one of the most controversial decisions during the week: the city's decision to not declare a State of Emergency on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 21.
The night before, in the hours after Scott was killed, CMPD had to evacuate officers by bus after being surrounded by rock-throwing protesters. Protesters later shut down Interstate 85 and burned at least one tractor trailer truck.
Early on the morning of Sept. 21, then Gov. Pat McCrory phoned interim city manager Ron Kimble and offered the assistance of the N.C. National Guard. Charlotte city leaders decided against immediately calling in the National Guard before a second night of protesting began.
On the second night, a person was shot and killed in a mass of protesters near the EpiCentre. The city declared the State of Emergency that night. The National Guard arrived the next day. The Police Foundation’s report mentions the National Guard but does not analyze the timing or the city’s decision to delay declaring an emergency.
All recommendations may be read on the city of Charlotte’s website.
A sample of recommendations to CMPD includes:
▪ Mandating that all Civil Emergency Unit officers wear body cameras (CMPD expanded its body camera program this spring and said in recent months that all of its officers below the highest ranks of leadership will wear body cameras).
▪ Developing training for all officers to learn crowd management strategies and how to respond to mass demonstrations.
▪ Developing procedures to track social media during major incidents.
▪ Including community members in hiring and promotion decisions and development of policy and training plans.
▪ Giving officers more training in “empathetic dialogue and non-confrontational conversations with community members,” even when that dialogue includes verbal abuse.
▪ Continuing use of officers riding bicycles during demonstrations and mass gatherings.
▪ Expanding foot patrols, which were introduced this summer in NoDa and Plaza Midwood, to “communities most affected by violence and negative perceptions of the police.”
Now, city leaders say they are developing a strategy to start the recommendations. City officials plan to meet again with the foundation to finalize the report.
“CMPD consistently reviews and enhances its practices, and we expect that many of the recommendations may have already been implemented,” said Sandy D’Elosua Vastola, a city spokesperson.