The investigation into the death of Shatona Robinson is not complete, but Police Chief Rodney Monroe on Monday made this much clear:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Martray Proctor was driving his cruiser in excess of 90 mph on Old Statesville Road Sunday night when he struck Robinson's car.
Proctor apparently did not have his blue lights or siren on.
He was not responding to an emergency. He was going to assist another officer in a routine traffic stop. Monroe said he has found no reason for Proctor to be driving 45 mph or more over the speed limit.
CMPD needs to conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation. It vows to do so. And District Attorney Peter Gilchrist needs to assess that investigation and charge Proctor with the appropriate crime if the investigation merits.
An even better approach would be for an outside, independent agency to conduct the investigation. As with police shootings, that would give the public more confidence that all facts are being considered and that there's no special treatment.
State law says an officer must have his blue lights and siren on if he is exceeding the speed limit. And CMPD policy says an officer can speed only in an emergency, such as when there is threat of serious injury to an officer or a citizen. Even then, he must drive “with due regard to the safety of others” and his speed must be “reasonable and prudent.”
Those are clear and adequate guidelines. CMPD provides its recruits 56 hours of driving training in academy. A few years ago, it added “scenario-based driving” to its training, better simulating real-life situations. It appears to have paid off: the force had 6.7 crashes per million miles driven in 2008, a drop of about 40 percent compared with 2001. CMPD says that number is lower than many comparable departments.
CMPD should use this tragedy to assess its training further and, perhaps most importantly, vocally and repeatedly remind officers of the need to drive cautiously. Officers are given a gun, the power to arrest and the right to break traffic laws when the circumstances warrant. They must be held to a higher standard when they use those privileges. And there must be clear consequences when they misuse them.
We applaud Monroe and CMPD for being forthright about the facts of this case and for recognizing the responsibility police have to society in using their authority properly. We also applaud his commitment to get the facts and act accordingly.
It shouldn't take a tragedy for CMPD leaders to make sure officers obey law and policy at all times. Monroe needs to send that message to his officers, loud and clear.