Does the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department have a use-of-force problem?
Thursday’s verdict in federal court against Officer Michael Forbes was the third time this year that CMPD has lost a court case or paid a settlement involving an officer’s use of excessive force.
In a fourth case, Officer Randall Kerrick faces a voluntary manslaughter charge and a lawsuit after shooting an unarmed Jonathan Ferrell 10 times last September.
Perhaps the proximity of all these cases is mere coincidence, a momentary spike (the cases were from various years and one of the settlements stemmed from a case dating back to 2006). Even if so, it marks an opportunity for Chief Rodney Monroe and CMPD to again assess its training, its culture and its officers to ensure that the department is doing all it can to prepare each of its men and women to perform an incredibly difficult job well, every time.
Amid the protests in Ferguson, Mo., and the spate of questionable police actions in Charlotte, it’s important to remember that Charlotte’s officers encounter thousands of belligerent or violent suspects each year and rarely use force. They must make split-second decisions in volatile situations and routinely do so in a proper way.
Still, each case of excessive force is one too many, and CMPD must constantly evaluate whether it can improve its hiring, training and procedures.
Over the 12 months ending last September, five people died in confrontations with CMPD officers, the worst such run in at least a decade. That run, and particularly Kerrick’s shooting of Ferrell in September, prompted a push for tougher police oversight. At that time, Monroe told the Observer editorial board that his department regularly looks for ways to improve its use-of-force training, and that it would use the Kerrick case as another opportunity to ferret out any problems.
The city pointed out that Charlotte’s 14 fatal police shootings in the previous decade was lower than many comparable cities.
In November, the Charlotte City Council took an important step by unanimously giving the city’s Citizens Review Board more power to review complaints of police misconduct and how CMPD disciplines its officers. An Observer study had found that the board sided with police, not citizens, every single time. Monroe had initially said the board did not need to be changed, but the City Council rightly saw that the board was nearly powerless compared to those in many other cities.
In the aftermath of Ferguson and the current crop of rulings against CMPD, Monroe should ensure that his policies effectively govern the use of force – and that the public has faith that CMPD cares that they do.