A poll of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County residents taken one year after Keith Lamont Scott was killed by police suggests that race relations haven’t changed much, and divisions are deep when it comes to public opinion on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
More than half of the 611 people who responded to the Elon University/Charlotte Observer/WBTV poll said race relations are about the same since the shooting. The death of Scott, an African American, sparked protests and fueled questions about mistrust between police and minorities.
About a quarter said they have gotten worse, while less than 10 percent said they had improved. Those responses didn’t change much depending on the race of the respondent.
But the poll also asked whether Charlotte-Mecklenburg police treat racial minorities fairly, or whether they treat some groups better than others.
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The responses to that question split heavily depending on the race of the person responding. Nearly half of white respondents – 46 percent – said police treat all groups fairly. Only 13 percent of black respondents answered the same way.
Two-thirds of black respondents said CMPD officers do treat some groups better than others – double the percentage of white respondents who answered that way.
The poll only broke down respondents’ races into white, black and “other,” so information about other racial and ethnic groups isn’t clear. The “other” category’s responses were somewhere between those of the black and white groups for the fairness question.
Millennials, which the poll categorized as people born after 1980, were the age group most likely to say police treat some groups better than others. Fifty-seven percent answered that way, while only 25 percent said police treat all groups fairly.
Women were significantly more likely than men to say the police treat some groups better than others. Half of female respondents gave that answer, compared to 43 percent of men.
CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said the poll results are not surprising, because race relations have been a long-term challenge in Charlotte and around the country. He said improving race relations will require empathy and honest dialogue.
“We as a department are committed to doing what we can to improve race relations and ask our community to simply meet us halfway,” he said in a statement Thursday.
The poll also asked about the upcoming mayoral election and what should be the next mayor’s first priority. The third-most popular response, behind education and economic development, was race relations and diversity. Crime ranked fifth.
A question about the Citizens Review Board, which is tasked with reviewing CMPD disciplinary procedures but currently has little power beyond making recommendations, produced a clear response.
A strong majority of respondents – 72 percent in Mecklenburg County and 75 percent in Charlotte specifically – said the board should have the power to require police officers to testify before the board as it reviews cases of police misconduct. Fewer than 20 percent said that no, the board shouldn’t have that power.
On Tuesday, for the first time in its 20-year history, the board ruled against CMPD when it found that Chief Kerr Putney “clearly erred” by not disciplining an officer who held a gun to an unarmed man’s head and threatened to kill him in March 2016.
The officer, Jon Dunham, now works for Davidson Police Department, so CMPD can’t directly discipline him. A CMPD re-examination of the incident recently found that Dunham showed “conduct unbecoming to an officer.”
Despite the overall strong response to the poll’s question about the Citizens Review Board, answers still varied along racial lines. Almost 90 percent of black respondents supported the board requiring police to testify, while only 60 percent of white respondents agreed.