Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have planned to phase out dashboard cameras in favor of body cameras, but the City Council member who oversees public safety said the city should consider keeping both types of technology.
Under pressure, the city released two videos Saturday from the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott earlier this week.
The body camera video was blurry. The dashboard camera footage from inside a police car was clearer and provided a better of view of Scott’s actions in the moments before he was shot by police.
Neither video, however, settled the debate as to whether Scott was holding a gun.
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Council member Julie Eiselt, who oversees public safety, told the Observer on Sunday that she spoke with CMPD chief Kerr Putney Saturday night about the department’s plans to rely on body cameras exclusively in the future.
Eiselt said Putney is open to keeping the dash cameras.
“That’s a discussion we have to have,” Eiselt said. “Do we have both?”
Eiselt, a Democrat, said Putney told her that the previous CMPD chief, Rodney Monroe, was in favor of relying solely on body cameras. She said Putney told her he is in favor of keeping both. Putney couldn’t immediately be reached Sunday.
Dash camera footage provided critical evidence in the 2013 fatal shooting of Jonathan Ferrell by former CMPD officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick.
Ferrell was unarmed. But after jurors viewed the dash camera footage that showed Ferrell running toward Kerrick and other officers, at least two said they were unwilling to convict the former officer for excessive force after seeing the video. Jurors deadlocked 8-4 against convicting Kerrick.
At the time of the shooting, CMPD didn’t use body cameras on a department-wide basis.
In January 2015, Monroe lobbied council members to spend $7 million on 1,400 new body cameras. Though some council members were concerned the request should have been made as part of the usual budget process, they approved the expense.
At the time, Monroe said the body cameras would eventually replace the dash cameras. The city said the old dash cameras were old and replacement parts were difficult to obtain. A new system would cost $5 million, the city said.
In September 2015, after the Kerrick dash camera video was shown during his trial, Putney said CMPD was still planning to phase out the dashboard cameras.
In the Scott case, there have been at least four pieces of visual evidence of the shooting and its aftermath.
CMPD has said Scott was holding a handgun. Scott’s family has said he didn’t have a gun and they have said neighbors reported he was holding a book.
A still photograph of the scene after Scott was killed shows an object on the ground near Scott’s feet that appears to be a handgun. CMPD has said they recovered a loaded gun from the scene that had Scott’s fingerprints and DNA on it.
The body camera footage from an officer on the scene was blurry and didn’t show Scott’s hands.
The dash camera footage shows Scott walking backwards after he got out of his white SUV. It’s difficult to determine if he’s holding anything in his hands.
On Friday, the attorneys for Scott’s family released a cell phone video taken by Scott’s wife, Rakeyia Scott, that showed the moments before and after the shooting. That cell phone video does not show Scott at the exact moment when he was shot.
When his wife gets in view of his body about one-minute into the cell phone video, what looks like a black object appears briefly near a police officer in a red shirt, who has his foot over the spot five seconds later. He stands with his left foot anchored on the pavement in the area where the photograph showed the pistol.
It cannot be determined from the video whether his foot is on the object, but his foot does not move for the rest of the video while other officers at the scene are in motion.
Kenneth Williams, a law professor at the Houston College of Law in Texas, said it would make sense for the city to have both dash cameras and body cameras.
“As these videos demonstrate, the dash cam will pick up things the body cam may miss, primarily because the officer is moving while the dash cam remains still,” Williams said in an e-mail.
Williams said he has reviewed the videos. The main question, he said, is whether Scott had a gun.
“The video does not resolve the issue of whether he had a gun,” Williams said. “I think the key issue will be whether he had a gun in his possession at the time he was shot. If so, I don't think the officer will be indicted and certainly won't be convicted.”