Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney met with the Observer editorial board back in April. None of us knew Keith Lamont Scott’s name at that time, of course.
But we did know the importance of police body camera and dashboard camera video, and we asked Putney his views about releasing such footage publicly. It is interesting, given the events of the past week-plus, to read his response today.
At the time, the legislature was about to consider a bill on police videos that would put the decision about their release solely in the hands of the police chief or sheriff. We thought this was an extraordinarily bad idea. So did Putney.
Here’s what he said:
“It needs to be bigger than the chief of police. It can’t be based on the personality of who has that position right now. That’s too subjective.”
He added: “Here’s my issue with giving all discretion to a chief of police: Most human nature is for me to show those videos that present the best image for me. I’m not going to put myself in that position. I am human. I’m going to have other people weigh in.
“We get our authority from the public but we have to earn it and we have to fight like crazy to maintain it. And part of that is, it has to be bigger than us, it can’t be so focused on one personality making those kinds of decisions. I think that just makes for bad policy.”
As it turned out, the legislature passed a law that makes it extremely difficult for the public to see police video. In a fit of twisted logic, Senate leader Phil Berger today is using that law, which he backed, to pressure Mayor Jennifer Roberts to release the hour and a half’s worth of video from the Scott shooting that is still secret. That is, Berger is calling for quick transparency from Roberts because a law he supports will encumber transparency going forward. That takes some gall.
Given the Saturday deadline, the city today should release the rest of the video it is withholding – because it’s the right thing to do.
Putney, meanwhile, now says he will be more open with police videos in the future. But thanks to Berger and his colleagues, the law may not allow that after today.