When it comes to a subject as critical as the use of deadly force, police departments should have clear policies, consistent training for officers, and strong quality-control checks to make sure that training is being applied in the field.
Testimony this week in the manslaughter trial of Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick raises questions about how all of that works at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
▪ Kerrick said he pulled out a gun during the deadly 2013 encounter with Jonathan Ferrell because the first officer on the scene had pulled out a Taser. He did so after a superior officer admonished him and another officer because both pulled out Tasers during a 2012 traffic stop.
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▪ CMPD training expert Capt. Mike Campagna testified, however, that “going lethal” to back up another officer’s Taser is not departmental policy.
So the policy said to do one thing, but Kerrick was told to do something else? Was there a disconnect between policy and practice?
We could shrug it off as a single confusing instance, but for the $2.25 million civil settlement the city has reached with Ferrell’s family. As the Observer’s Fred Clasen-Kelly pointed out in a story last Sunday, that case raised broader questions about how the department trains and supervises officers on the use of force.
Depositions of top commanders showed that the department didn’t keep written records about how well officers performed in video training simulations of use-of-force situations. Some 30 officers train on the technology on a given day, but the department doesn’t score their performance or offer written assessments of how they’ve done.
CMPD also has an early intervention data analysis program that can help spot officers who have trouble interacting with citizens. But the depositions showed that the internal affairs unit, which is responsible for handling excessive force and officer misconduct cases, does not regularly track the information for most officers entered into the database.
CMPD says its system is sound. It exceeds state requirements by giving officers supplemental instruction on subject control, de-escalation and threat identification techniques.
Perhaps the department is doing fine. Maybe the disconnect between policy, training and practice that emerged in the Kerrick trial represents an exception, not the norm.
Still, you don’t pay that $2.25 million unless you’re sure you can’t win at trial. CMPD officials told the editorial board Wednesday they want to wait until after Kerrick’s trial to talk about the civil depositions and questions about training.
These are troubling questions concerning life-or-death decisions. Let’s hope they have some good answers.