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Charlotte Introduces Policy To Crack Down On Profiling

The deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in cities around the country has once again created a national question about how police interact with the minority communities they serve.  In Charlotte, which experienced its own high-profile police killing two years ago, city officials unveiled their answer last night, in the form of a new “civil liberties policy.” It won cautious approval from both police and community groups.

If the city council enacts the policy, the biggest change would be to “arbitrary profiling” by police—a stop, search or arrest in any way due to a person’s race, religion, age, gender identity, immigration status, or other non-behavioral factor.

Deputy Chief Kerr Putney says CMPD hasn’t punished officers for it. In fact, they didn’t even track it.

“We didn’t have a Rule of Conduct specific to arbitrary profiling,” Kerr told the city council. “We had a policy that said we will not, but we what we did not do was allow for some accountability, which is what we have applied going through this process.”

Putney says that means officers will face a board review and investigation when accused of profiling, and they’ll need to record the reason for all stops they make.

The policy also sets out that CMPD doesn’t enforce immigration policy—it’s not their job and Putney says it can interfere with other police activities. Officers shouldn’t ask about someone’s status unless they suspect gang or terrorist affiliations.

It also includes reaffirmations that the public has the right to record arrests and to peaceful demonstration.

State representative Rodney Moore pushed for the new policy and was initially critical of the city’s response, but he says that’s changed.

“You never get everything that you want in these situations, but I think they’ve been very, very methodical in what they’ve thought about,” Moore says. “And I think it really covers protections for citizens.”

He wishes the policy included further strengthening the Citizens’ Review Board, which handles appeals of police complaints—now including profiling. The board has never ruled in a citizens’ favor.

Others at the meeting said they appreciated the city’s efforts, but had doubts about whether the new civil liberties policy would prove effective.

“You got to have the person lined up to be able to follow these instructions,” said Waverlene Ivey, who attended along with other members of the advocacy group Action NC. “It’s like a child you’ve been raising up. You give them a plan. You tell them what you can do, what you can’t do, and it’s always what you can’t do that they want to try.”

On the other side, councilman Ed Driggs asked Deputy Chief Putney if the policy would harm CMPD.

“None of your officers has expressed any concerns about not having the same latitude to do their job as a result of these actions?” Driggs asked.

“No, sir,” Putney replied. “What our officers are concerned about is the timing of everything else that is happening around the country and how we can best prepare for it. What we’re telling them is we’re being proactive in it. I think it’s okay in things like this, protecting civil liberties.”

Putney said another change in Charlotte—the adoption of police body cameras—will help wrongly accused officers.

Councilwoman Vi Lyles said it’s hard to know how effective the policy will be.

“What I’d like to see, as we incorporate this, is that we actually do track it, and evaluate it, and come back, in maybe a year and say ‘how’s it going, where do we need to make any changes, what impact has it had?’” Lyles said.

Before the council can begin to determine that, it needs to first approve the policy—the  next step is a public hearing on Monday, June 8th.