Crime & Courts

CMPD chief says he’s willing to listen to changes on deadly force policy

Members of a board tasked with advising the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department on its deadly force policy said they were surprised Tuesday afternoon by Chief Kerr Putney’s willingness to listen to their ideas.

The Citizens Review Board made significant policy recommendations, which Putney had invited them to do. The recommendations include major differences from CMPD’s current policy, including an emphasis on de-escalation and external investigations of every police shooting.

“He was more open to some of these ideas, like including de-escalation, like including additional training, like including more of the sanctity of life,” Julian Wright, one of the board’s lawyers, said Tuesday. “He was just, I think, more receptive to those ideas today than perhaps he had been in prior conversations.”

Putney said he expects to have a new version of the deadly force policy ready in the fall. He isn’t obligated to accept recommendations from the 11-member board, which advises the police department and hears allegations of police misconduct. But he said he plans to meet with them at least one more time before the policy is finished.

In its draft, the board rewrote and expanded on nearly 20 pages of existing department policies, covering the use of deadly force along with the use of less lethal force and Tasers.

Putney refused to answer a question from board member John Watkins about whether he had outright dismissed any of the board’s ideas, and he refused to talk with reporters after he left the meeting.

The need to de-escalate

Unlike CMPD’s current deadly force policy, the board’s draft urged officers to try to de-escalate situations if time allows.

Officers should try to calm people down and position themselves at a safe distance or behind a shield if they can, according to the draft policy, to create a slower-moving, safer situation.

“An armed person shall not automatically be deemed an immediate threat simply by virtue of being armed,” the draft policy states.

Putney told board members that the department is constantly improving its training on how new officers and veterans can defuse a situation.

In the past, Putney has talked about the importance of de-escalation, but he also repeatedly has said that the presence of a weapon reduces CMPD officers’ options.

“It’s hard to de-escalate when you don’t get communication and cooperation,” he said at an April press conference following the death of Danquirs Franklin, a man who appeared to be lowering a gun toward the ground when he was shot and killed by a CMPD officer. The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office has not yet ruled on the Franklin case.

Since Putney became chief in 2015, 13 people have been killed by CMPD officers. Some controversial killings, including Franklin, Keith Lamont Scott in 2016 and Rueben Galindo in 2017, have drawn particular attention to CMPD’s de-escalation practices and its use of deadly force.

Intervention by other officers

The draft policy said police officers have “an affirmative duty to intervene” if they see another officer getting ready to use deadly force and believe it isn’t necessary.

Putney said he doesn’t believe Deputy City Attorney Mark Newbold will accept that phrasing. Wright said he and the board’s other lawyers will talk over a possible solution with Newbold, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

Putney said he wants to avoid a situation where an officer arrives late to a scene without context and misinterprets another officer’s behavior as an overreaction. But the idea of officers working together to de-escalate a situation is a good one, he said, and the department encourages them to do that during training.

“That is exactly how we train, but you can never replicate real life in training,” he said.

Post-shooting investigation

Every CMPD shooting leads to two parallel but separate investigations: a criminal investigation and an internal analysis of whether the officer followed department policy.

It’s common for other North Carolina police departments to ask the State Bureau of Investigation or another outside organization to conduct its police shooting investigations. CMPD has kept those investigations in-house, except when the victim’s family requests SBI involvement.

The draft policy suggests changing that: “The Department shall request that an independent agency investigate all uses of deadly force by Department officers concurrent with the Department’s investigation.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Putney told board members that District Attorney Spencer Merriweather decides which agency handles investigations, so they should take that proposal to him. The board moved to invite Merriweather to its August meeting.

The draft policy also spells out a timeline for when officers should be interviewed after a shooting. For both internal and criminal investigations, the officer should be interviewed by the end of their shift, or at least within 24 hours “when possible,” according to the draft policy.

First aid policy

The draft policy would also increase officers’ obligation to provide medical aid to people they have injured.

The current CMPD policy directs an officer to apply “any first aid he or she is trained and certified to apply.” Officers have been criticized in recent years for failing to provide aid immediately after shootings, including in the Franklin case.

Putney has said bullet wounds to the torso are complex and require expert medical care that officers aren’t trained to provide. They’re trained in CPR, for example, but medical experts say CPR can be dangerous for gunshot victims.

In the draft policy, officers are told to give “other medical aid, as is reasonable based on the circumstances of the encounter, whether or not (the officer is) trained and certified.”

Putney did not discuss first aid requirements at Tuesday’s meeting.


An earlier version of this story included unclear information about the Citizens Review Board’s recent policy recommendations to CMPD. The board’s recent action included making significant policy change recommendations, at the invitation of CMPD Chief Kerr Putney. .
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Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.