On Christmas Eve, during a fatal officer-involved shooting at Northlake Mall, police feared an active shooter was targeting civilians or that a police officer had been shot.
In the end, a teenage gunman was shot dead and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officer who killed him was placed on administrative leave. But, because of CMPD policy, the department doesn’t have video of the fatal encounter despite spending millions spent to equip officers with body cameras to provide clarity in such situations.
Last year, CMPD police officers shot three people in the line of duty. Two of those incidents – including the shooting at Northlake – involved officers who were hired for secondary employment jobs, where they essentially serve as security guards for businesses. Officers working in that capacity can’t wear body cameras because of CMPD policy.
Patrol officers have had the cameras since September and are supposed to use them during most encounters with the public. But the last seven months have revealed some gaps in the policies that govern the cameras’ use.
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Maj. Steve Willis, one of the architects of CMPD’s body camera policy, said the department considered having officers wear the cameras during secondary employment jobs, but ultimately opted against it.
“It’s cost and logistics,” Willis said. “We put the money where the biggest need was, and that was in patrol.”
On the secondary employment jobs, officers wear their uniforms and carry their guns, Tasers and other police equipment. They’re still authorized to make arrests for law violations.
Officers working those secondary employment jobs also routinely are hired at bars, clubs and restaurants that serve alcohol, because of a police policy change a few years ago. The change can put officers in constant contact with people who have been drinking and whose judgment is impaired.
That happened last year when police say an officer working at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant uptown shot and seriously injured a man who had put him in a chokehold while the officer was trying to break up a fight.
Then-Chief Rodney Monroe told reporters that the suspect was significantly larger than Officer Tyler Lee and had the officer in “a rather strenuous chokehold and began to fling him about the restaurant.”
Lee tried unsuccessfully to free himself, police said. Ultimately, he pulled his gun and fired three shots, all of which struck the man, Monroe said. The man continued choking him and struck him several times, police said. Lee eventually got free and called for help.
City Council member Julie Eiselt, who heads the community safety committee, said she thinks “it’s a policy worth looking at.”
“We've just gotten to the point where we got them on every officer, and that in itself was expensive,” she said. “It’s like hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for the data storage.”
Staff writer Maria David contributed.