Time for healing within CMPD

The Observer editorial board

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police kept peace following the mistrial in the Randall Kerrick case.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police kept peace following the mistrial in the Randall Kerrick case. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

When jurors announced last Friday that they couldn’t reach a verdict in Randall Kerrick’s manslaughter trial, some feared Baltimore-style unrest could hit the streets of uptown Charlotte.

That fear seemed well-founded later that night, when the peaceful protesters who marched immediately after the trial ended gave way to a younger, more boisterous crowd, some of whom threw rocks at police.

Officers performed like true professionals. They quickly deescalated the situation and restored order.

Now that the trial and protests are done, attention is turning again to the officers. Many of them feel Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department brass rushed to judgment in charging Kerrick.

They wonder: If I pull my service weapon like Kerrick did, will I wind up getting prosecuted too? Kerrick’s defense attorney, George Laughrun, says those fears are causing some officers to shy away from proactive police work, declining to volunteer for duties outside their assigned tasks.

Given the fact that Kerrick was arrested less than a day after he shot Jonathan Ferrell, it is understandable that officers feel the process was rushed. And since they were told the dashcam video would provide clear and convincing evidence that Kerrick committed a crime, it is also understandable that they feel misled.

Chief Kerr Putney knows he must win back their confidence. He struck the right tone recently in reaching out to officers with an email telling them he acknowledges and respects their opinions about the case, even if they differ from his.

Critically, he also understands he must clear up any confusion the trial testimony left about the proper use of deadly force. He said the use-of-force policy should govern all officers. He’s taking steps to ensure no supervisors tell officers to act outside of its directives, as testimony suggested happened to Kerrick.

Putney, a former police academy trainer, said he wants to add more scenario-based training at the academy to make officers more adept at handling real-world confrontations. He also wants to add more teaching on hand-to-hand combat so officers don’t feel as compelled to go for lethal force to subdue suspects.

Those are all good ideas. Given the swirl of commotion the Kerrick case brought to town, city council members would be well advised to request updates from CMPD on how these refinements to the department’s use-of-force protocols are shaping up.

CMPD’s officers showed the nation last weekend how a competent force handles itself when confronted with angry protests over a police shooting of an unarmed black man.

Now we need our officers to rise to the occasion again, this time by putting aside hard feelings and continuing to perform like the professionals they are.