Ever since then-Chief Rodney Monroe successfully lobbied Charlotte’s City Council last year to spend $7 million on 1,400 new body cameras, there have been questions about whether the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department should dump its aging dashboard cameras.
Monroe envisioned body cameras eventually replacing dash cameras. The dash cameras, more than 650 of them as of late 2015, are too old to maintain and repair. Estimated cost for a new system: $5 million.
Considering the protests of the past week, the City Council should shelve any thoughts of ditching dash cameras.
Julie Eiselt, head of the council’s public safety committee, told The Observer’s Steve Harrison on Sunday that Chief Kerr Putney, who succeeded Monroe, is open to keeping the dash cameras.
Good. Public trust in CMPD has been battered on some fronts amidst the turmoil over the Keith Lamar Scott shooting. Transparency must be the department’s watch-word going forward, and dash camera footage provided the most informative video of Scott’s fatal encounter with officers.
The dash camera video, unlike the choppy body camera video, showed Scott at the precise moment police opened fire. It didn’t answer every question, but it provided at least a few key facts.
While the dash cam video doesn’t explicitly show whether Scott had a gun or a book in his hand, it does show officers repeatedly yelling at him to drop a gun. It shows Scott was backing up at the time he was shot. That’s valuable information.
At a time when social media can light unfounded rumors ablaze, even scraps of factual evidence can help people feel their way toward the truth. That’s important.
If that video had been quickly released to the public, would that have been enough to overcome the social media-fueled narrative of a black man gunned down by police while he was simply reading a book? Maybe, maybe not. Absent the dash cam video, would citizens be further from understanding the truth of what happened? Definitely.
“Anything that calms the public and gives the police another way to show them transparency is worth it,” council member Claire Fallon told the editorial board Monday.
Of course, the presence of video won’t necessarily guarantee that protests won’t erupt following the next police shooting.
And you won’t find $5 million or more hiding under the couch cushions over at the Government Center.
But consider this. The damage to Charlotte’s image and its soul over the past week has far exceeded the $5 million price tag for dash cameras.
Buy new dash video systems, City Council. We know it won’t be easy to come up with the money.
But at a time when we desperately need to rebuild public trust in CMPD, it’s a wise investment in the city’s future.