CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney again defended the police shooting last year of Keith Scott, but he also said he accepted some of the recommendations made by a civilian group that reviewed the shooting.
The Citizen's Review Board recommended that CMPD look again at some of their training policies, but the Chief said if a suspect confronts police officers with a gun, that is, in his words, "a game changer."
"An armed, non-compliant subject is probably the most difficult encounter an officer can experience," said Putney.
Nine months after CMPD Officer Brentley Vinson fatally shot Scott, in June 2017, the Charlotte Citizens Review Board sided with Scott's family in their appeal of CMPD's findings that his shooting was justified.
The board voted 8-2 in favor of Scott's family, saying there was "substantial evidence of error" in CMPD's decision. However, in an August vote the Citizens Review Board was evenly split four to four on whether the shooting was justified. They said they would make policy recommendations to CMPD following the vote.
While those recommendations were not disclosed to the public, CMPD responded to a number of them Friday.
"The CMPD believes the department has the authority and responsibility to release those recommendations to ensure our community has the opportunity to review them, as well as, CMPD’s response to them," CMPD said in a press release.
CMPD responded to three of the board's recommendations. They consisted of "vehicle takedowns" and breaking a window to gain entry into a vehicle, de-escalation tactics, and reaction time. Below are the three recommendations CMPD released and their responses to them.
1. The Citizens Review Board recommends CMPD evaluate its practice of conducting vehicle takedowns and breaching a vehicle window.
• A vehicle takedown is an enforcement tactic whereby officers swiftly block the path of a stationary suspect vehicle with police vehicles to prevent it from leaving the scene.
• This tactic relies on the “element of surprise” for the purpose of quickly gaining compliance from the subject(s) inside a vehicle. Incorporated within this tactic is the option of breaching (breaking) a window to unlock a door so that officers can gain control over a non-compliant subject.
• An officer confronted with an armed non-compliant subject is one of the most difficult situations encountered by officers in the field.
• The longer a person fails to comply with lawful commands, the greater the risk posed to the public, the officer and the subject.
• It cannot be ignored that an officer has no way to know why a subject fails to comply with lawful commands and may consider that the failure to comply is a precursor to an attack on the officer or a member of the public.
• CMPD agrees that comprehensively evaluating possible scenarios that could arise, not only during a vehicle takedown, but also with other tactics used to gain compliance of a subject in any circumstance, is essential to effective policing.
• CMPD will continue to insert de-escalation tactics where appropriate in its scenario based training.
• CMPD is reviewing the current practice of breaching a window and whether further guidelines are necessary.
2. The Citizens Review Board recommends policy revisions and training on the use of de-escalation techniques.
• De-escalation tactics are used by police to lower the threat level posed by a non-compliant subject and hopefully gain compliance with little or no physical force.
• De-escalation tactics currently include the use of various verbal techniques and in appropriate circumstances involve the use of distance, time, negotiation and other available resources. However, in circumstances where a non-compliant subject is armed with a firearm, the decision to use de-escalation tactics, including less lethal force must be tempered with the imminent threat posed by the non-compliant subject.
• CMPD trains and relies on the de-escalation tactics mentioned in the Directives cited by the Board. CMPD believes that Directives are effective when they present basic principles to guide officers’ behavior. No Directive can capture every possible scenario that might confront an officer. CMPD has begun a review of its use of force directives and continuum with an eye towards providing additional guidance that assists officers in making critical decisions related to the use of force.
• CMPD agrees with the Citizens Review Board that it is appropriate to review other Police Departments’ Directives.
NOTE: The Board also recommended that all less lethal options be available whenever officers conduct a vehicle takedown. CMPD concurs with this recommendation and will evaluate how to do so.
The Citizen Review Board recommends that CMPD scientifically validate whether its reliance on reaction time is an acceptable practice.
• CMPD agrees with this recommendation. It has conducted internal tests to determine the validity of relying on reaction time and training staff has reviewed studies relied on in the police profession.
• CMPD will contact an independent third party with scientific expertise to conduct a validation study which includes actual testing to confirm (or not) that a suspect can fire a shot before the officer has time to react and defend him or herself.
CMPD concluded their response to the release of three of the Citizens Review Board's recommendations saying that it's appropriate for the community and public to review and question their policies, procedures and tactics whenever an officer discharges their firearm or engages in an incident involving the use of force.
Speaking later with reporters, Community Relations Board Director Willie Ratchford said he approved of what the Chief said.
"I support what the Chief said and I think they made some good decisions regarding what they are going to do about the recommendations that have been presented by the CRB at this time," said Ratchford.
Chief Putney again raised the point that the District Attorney had reviewed the Scott shooting and found it to have been justified.
The attorney's for Scott's family, Charles G. Monnett III, Justin Bamberg and Eduardo Curry, released a joint statement regarding the partial release of the Citizens Review Board's recommendations:
As the one-year anniversary of the shooting death of Keith Scott approaches, his family continues to grieve his loss. They remain hopeful that Keith's death will not have been in vain and that meaningful changes will occur within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department as it relates to de-escalation of citizen conflicts and the use of deadly force.
The city of Charlotte and CMPD have repeatedly stated they are committed to being transparent with regard to use of force decisions.
The family believes that a real commitment to transparency requires the release of the Citizens Review Board's recommendations in full as a matter of public interest.Keith Scott's family is grateful for the support and understanding the Charlotte community has shown them over this past year. Their desire is that no other family will have to deal with such a tragedy in the future.