Civil rights plan would duplicate many CMPD policies

A proposed civil-rights resolution for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has been touted as a critical tool for the city, but the same resolution would differ little from existing police policies and directives, some say.

The resolution is designed to prohibit profiling, improve police interactions with residents and set boundaries for how law enforcement covers protests and demonstrations.

City Manager Ron Carlee has said the resolution would mean the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” would have no “footnotes or asterisks.” The city worked to craft the resolution in the wake of riots in Ferguson, Mo. and later Baltimore.

Others are skeptical.

“To me there is no reason to have it,” said Todd Walther, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Charlotte. “We have our own policies and we have our own directives that lead us to that. Other than that, there is no sense in having it when we have the Constitution to follow. I don't know what the purpose is.”

The City Council will consider the resolution Monday.

▪ Much of the proposal focuses on profiling.

It says CMPD “shall reject the use of individual or unique traits or associations within a group that are unrelated to criminal behavior as a reason to employ...police detentions, stop and frisks, arrests, searches, seizures...”

CMPD attorney Mark Newbold said that much of the resolution is already covered by existing police directives, including a prohibition on profiling, passed in 2009.

Police Chief Rodney Monroe has said the department has not kept statistics on racial profiling complaints, though it has recently started. The department has also hired an analyst to examine trends in arrest and complaint data.

And for the first time, the Citizens Review Board, which can review allegations of police misconduct, will be able to hear complaints about profiling.

A recent study shows the difficulty in keeping with the spirit of the existing policy and the similar anti-profiling proposal.

In Charlotte, black drivers account for almost 60 percent of the city’s so-called “vehicle equipment” stops by police, according to a University of North Carolina study.

Younger black males, ages 16-30, are almost three times as likely to be searched as the average driver.

Monroe told the Observer in April that the UNC data, which was compiled from CMPD’s own reports, does not prove his officers are improperly targeting black motorists and passengers.

Traffic stops, he says, often are part of broader crime-fighting strategies in neighborhoods, frequently minority ones, that need police help.

Jibril Hough of Charlotte, a Muslim activist, praised the resolution.

He said the resolution might have prevented a post-9/11 arrest of Pakistani man in 2004 after he took videotape of the city skyline.

“Anytime you put more limitations on police and give more to the people it’s a good thing,” he said. “The officer profiled someone who looked strange.”

▪ In May, CMPD issued a directive that stated its officers will not enforce federal immigration law. The resolution reinforces that policy.

There are two exceptions: If a suspect could be involved with terrorism or a criminal street gang.

In those cases, CMPD would likely report them to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We want the victim to report the crime and not fear we will turn around and go to immigration,” said Newbold.

But if police are investigating a crime like assault, and police learn someone is in the country illegally, they would not report them.

Newbold said the Sheriff’s office may still work with ICE.

▪ The resolution also deals with how police monitor gatherings or protests. Much of the resolution is covered in a previous directive.

The resolution states that the police “shall not take, confiscate or seize a participant or spectator’s camera, cell phone or other electronic recording device because they are recording police.”

That appears to align with existing city policy.

In 2011, a resident said she was told by she couldn’t film an arrest taking place in her apartment complex. In response, Monroe said the department does not prohibit a credentialed journalist or private citizen from photographing police activity.

But Monroe said the policy gives its officers leeway in not allowing photographs if the person with a camera jeopardizes a “safe work area” for the police to work. The resolution would not change that.

▪  The Democratic National Convention in 2012, and the Occupy movement, presented CMPD with a new challenge of dealing with what was believed to be large-scale protests and possibly violence.

In May of that year, CMPD issued a directive that said police shall not monitor a lawful assembly or passive protest “except for the purpose of facilitating a legitimate law enforcement objective.”

Some of the language in the resolution being voted on Monday is almost identical to the 2012 directive.

The key point is whether there is a “legitimate law enforcement directive.” The threat of violence or a disturbance – either by the participants or against them – can give police leeway in monitoring an event.

The 2012 directive allows officers to go undercover to learn more about a group. But they may not be involved in “any decision making” within the organization.

“You can sit and watch but you can’t infiltrate,” Newbold said.

▪ The resolution also says that data from electronic surveillance shall be purged within a “reasonable time period.”

It does not place any limits on the technology, including street cameras, license plate readers, gunshot monitoring, red-light traffic cameras, and cell-phone interceptors.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

The Charlotte City Council is also scheduled to take its final vote on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. The meeting begins at 5 p.m. at the Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St., Charlotte.