Charlotte spent $380K to review CMPD’s handling of protests. Where’s the report?

CMPD Chief discusses CRB recommendations

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney addressed recommendations made by the city's Citizens Review Board concerning the department's policing.
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CMPD Chief Kerr Putney addressed recommendations made by the city's Citizens Review Board concerning the department's policing.

The city of Charlotte is still waiting on an independent analysis of how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department handled last year’s protests following the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott.

Charlotte City Council hired – at nearly a $380,000 expense to taxpayers – a specialty law enforcement consultant group to research CMPD’s actions, draft recommendations and write a report.

The report was due by Aug. 30. Some City Council members say they expected it earlier because they approved the spending in November 2016 and were told the report would be back in about six months.

I thought it would be out by now.

Council member Kenny Smith

But city employees say the report is still a few weeks away from being ready. The Police Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based firm hired to do the CMPD review, needed more time, said Britt Clampitt, a city spokesperson.

Other than saying the foundation needed more time to “compile, revise and edit the final report,” city officials gave no other explanation for the delay. The Police Foundation referred questions back to the city.

City officials say they never received monthly progress reports on the foundation’s work, despite the contract requiring it. Those reports, according to the contract, are designed to keep city officials up-to-date on the work and aware of any scheduling delays.

Wednesday is the anniversary of Scott’s death.

“I thought (the report) would be out by now,” says Kenny Smith, council member and Republican nominee for mayor.

Smith’s general election opponent, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, could not be reached this week about the delay in the Police Foundation’s report.

Some members of the City Council say they approved the Police Foundation contract after Scott was killed because they wanted an in-depth study of CMPD policies and procedures related to fatal shootings by police. Instead, the pending report – tentatively titled “Reuniting Charlotte” – is expected to focus on how CMPD handled last September’s protests and the department’s relations with the community.

One person was killed during the protests that followed and more than 80 people were arrested. City and police officials were sharply criticized by some in the community for levying a city-wide curfew and using rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters. The North Carolina National Guard was deployed by the state after then-Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency.

Organizers with Charlotte Uprising, a coalition of community groups that led protests, vigils and workshops, have said police were confrontational during demonstrations and that officers using “riot” or tactical gear on the streets escalated tensions.

‘Time is of the essence’

Council members say they believed when they approved the spending in November that the report would be finished before the one-year anniversary of Scott’s death.

But city staff didn’t finalize the contract until Dec. 15, 2016, a full month after the council approved the funding. Another page from the contract shows the city’s representatives agreed the work wouldn’t start until mid-February 2017.

City officials would not provide monthly progress reports required under the Police Foundation contract.

One section of the document says “time is of the essence” for the Police Foundation’s work to assess CMPD.

But this week, four City Council members told the Observer they can’t explain why the report on CMPD isn’t finished. A few said they’ve been asking that question but have been ignored by city staff.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts says the latest she’s heard is “it’s supposed to be out any week.”

Smith says, “I don’t recall much effort to keep (the City Council) apprised of the process.”

Council member Ed Driggs said it’s not uncommon for consultant reports to be late and the delay hasn’t stopped CMPD or the city from moving toward reforms. An internal CMPD review of how it handled the protests was also underway at the time the City Council approved the external evaluation.

Former Assistant City Manager Ann Wall signed the contract on the city’s behalf last year. She left in early August for another job and Deputy City Manager Sabrina Joy-Hogg took over as project manager. The Observer asked for an interview with the city’s project manager for the contract but that was not granted.

Charlotte’s city communications officials this week provided the Observer with a copy of the Police Foundation contract and timeline but said the final August deadline was missed and staff is still working on a new schedule.

The city this week also did not provide an update on contract spending (original budget was $379,504).

No review of Scott shooting

Some City Council members this week said they thought the Police Foundation could make recommendations on police use of force and shootings by officers, as well as the department’s tactics and interactions with protesters.

“I would have preferred for them to not just look at the response to the protests, but to look at the bigger picture,” Roberts said, adding that she believed policies and procedures would be a major part of the consultant’s review.

Julie Eiselt, head of the council’s public safety committee, said the Police Foundation review should include police use of deadly force.

City officials, meanwhile, say the focus areas of the council-approved contract have never changed and the consultant was hired to review police actions after the Scott shooting.

The contract says the Police Foundation will focus on two specific areas and make recommendations: CMPD’s response to the demonstrations and CMPD’s rebuilding of relations with the people of Charlotte. The contract also mentions studying police response to mental health calls, encouraging community input in policing and “best practices” on law enforcement use of force, internal investigations, implicit bias and officer recruitment.

The Police Foundation’s analysis is known as a “critical incident review.” The consultant group employs mainly law enforcement and policy experts. It’s considered by many to be the top consultancy group to provide a third-party objective review of police actions. Part of its contract with Charlotte includes working with an advisory board of local residents.

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney supported the city’s hiring of the Police Foundation last fall. He told council members then he believed the internal review at the department would be thorough but that an outside assessment was important.

“This is about the community who really needs to have more confidence in what’s going on,” he said.

The consultant research has included multiple trips to Charlotte to interview community leaders, activists, clergy, police and city officials. The Police Foundation has also held two “listening sessions” to gather opinions from the public about the police department.

On Friday, in a statement from city officials it was unclear whether Charlotte city leaders intend to publicly release the foundation’s findings. In response to an Observer question about whether the report will be posted on the city’s website, Clampitt said, “There may be some recommendations the city has already taken into consideration on its own. We will review these and put together a thoughtful response to the report.”

On Saturday, Clampitt added that the final report from the Police Foundation will be considered public record. “However, the city reserves the right to review any documents upon receipt and form a thoughtful response before releasing to the public,” she said.

The Police Foundation’s in-depth evaluation can’t independently make change in Charlotte, says Ray McKinnon, a Charlotte pastor who participated in marches and protests after the Scott shooting.

“Charlotte is really good at commissioning reports and they’re very bad at following through. ... The public’s confidence in this report will depend on whether or not they just put it on a shelf or will they use it to actually change policies within the police department,” McKinnon said. “I’m not surprised it’s behind schedule. But, I would rather something be done well than be rushed.”

This article has been updated to include new information from city of Charlotte officials about their plan to make public the final report from the Police Foundation.

Anna Douglas: 704-358-5078, @ADouglasNews