In June, Charlotte City Council unanimously approved a resolution adopting the 8 Can’t Wait initiative, part of a countrywide campaign that pushes police departments to adopt eight policies proven to decrease police violence and hold officers accountable.
In response, CMPD released a checklist stating that the department already had all eight policies taken care of, implementing some as early as 1987 and others as recently as June 4, the night before the resolution was adopted. The department even launched an 8 Isn’t Enough survey, soliciting feedback from the community on what more could be done to help reform the department.
However, at a meeting of the Safe Communities Committee on Tuesday, CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings admitted that the department had acted prematurely in declaring the mission accomplished, agreeing with criticisms from a committee input group that found the department hadn’t fully met four of the eight initiatives.
“We realize that it’s not as simple as just checking a box and saying that we’re doing that,” Jennings said on Tuesday. “So we have taken [the checklist] off the site and we’re looking at this from a whole different perspective.”
In July, the city launched the 20-member Safe Communities’ Community Input Group (SCCIG) to allow people on the ground who have lived experiences with policing and reform to advise the Safe Communities Committee, which is made up of five Charlotte City Council members. At Tuesday’s meeting, Federico Rios of the SCCIG presented specific reasons why the group did not yet believe CMPD had satisfied the 8 Can’t Wait initiative.
One 8 Can’t Wait initiative that CMPD had claimed to have implemented in 1987 was the banning of chokeholds and strangleholds, but the CIG found that strangleholds, considered to be the more dangerous of the two, were not specifically banned in the department’s policy.
A chokehold restricts the airway when pressure is applied to the front of the neck, while a stranglehold restricts blood flow to the brain when pressure is applied to the sides of the neck. In July, following feedback from the SCCIG, CMPD added strangleholds to its list of prohibited actions for police officers.
“CMPD has made some policy changes this month to edge closer to compliance with 8 Can’t Wait,” admitted Robert Dawkins, SCCIG member and state organizer with SAFE Coalition. “The new chokehold policy now includes strangleholds, the absence of which was a major point of contention for us in the advocacy community.”
Duty to Intervene
The next initiative Jennings said the department is currently working on is its duty-to-intervene policy, which requires officers to intervene and stop excessive force from other officers, then report such behavior immediately. CMPD included the policy on its checklist after revising it on June 4, adding the following language: “Officers will take appropriate and immediate action in any situation in which they know or should have known their failure to act would result in excessive response to resistance or egregious behavior which shocks the conscience.”
However, SCCIG members believe the language in CMPD’s existing policies, including “behavior which shocks the conscience,” is too vague, allowing for officers to slip away from any attempt at accountability.
“Vague and ambiguous terminology that lacks true definition will never be a way to hold an officer accountable,” Dawkins said on Tuesday. “A lack of definition does not benefit the officer or the public due to the subjectivity of the standards expected from the officer.”
Jennings said the department is currently working on using more specific language in its “neglect of duty” policy — CMPD’s version of “duty to intervene” — and believes the issue will be fixed soon.
Shooting at Moving Vehicles
The 8 Can’t Wait campaign calls on departments to ban shooting at moving vehicles, another policy that CMPD claimed to have implemented in 1987. However, the SCCIG found that CMPD too often allows for moving vehicles to be deemed deadly weapons, at which time officers are allowed to shoot at them.
Campaign Zero, which launched the countrywide 8 Can’t Wait campaign, has found shooting at moving vehicles to be a particularly dangerous and ineffective tactic, especially in Charlotte. SCCIG’s research found that, between 2005 and 2019, 12% of police killings in Charlotte involved a suspect who used only a car as a weapon, double the national average of 6%. In total, the group found that 14% of all CMPD shootings involved someone in a vehicle.
After emphasizing that he could not confirm those statistics on Tuesday, Jennings said he and other department representatives have been in discussion with Sam Sinyangwe, cofounder of Campaign Zero, about what reforming the vehicle policy would look like while not putting officers at risk. He said the discussion has centered around defining at what point a vehicle can be deemed a deadly weapon.
“As we go through this with Sam, we’re learning as well as he’s learning,” Jennings said. “We have been able to give him examples, specific to Charlotte, that have given him some thought as to whether or not a vehicle can be used as a lethal weapon towards an officer. I think we’re going to be able to get there and come to some sort of resolution as well.”
Exhaust All Alternatives
Included in the 8 Can’t Wait campaign is a call for departments to mandate that officers “exhaust all alternatives” before using their firearms. CMPD claimed in its since-deleted checklist that policy has required as much since at least 2003, though SCCIG found the language in the policy lacking.
Rios on Tuesday called for the department to add language that specifically mandates that officers use all non-deadly options — be that a taser or some other alternative — before they open fire on a suspect.
“All alternatives must be used or are for some reason unavailable to have deadly force as an option,” Rios said of the policies found in many of the departments studied by SCCIG. “CMPD’s policies do not currently require this.”
Jennings said he believes the department is close to satisfying the initiative in that case as well, and that the department is simply working on language around specifically defining what it means to say, “if no other options are reasonably available.”
The final piece of the 8 Can’t Wait puzzle is to require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians. While CMPD originally reported that this has been a part of its policy since 1987, SCCIG requests that an officer pointing their gun at someone be considered use of force.
Jennings pointed out that the department has recently rolled out the use of Signal Sidearms for all of its patrol units. The guns automatically activate an officer’s body-worn camera if they take their gun from their holster, which Jennings said will allow CMPD to better track each time an officer points their gun at someone.
Rios stated that beyond wanting to add pointing a firearm as a reportable use of force, the SCCIG feels the department needs to make its reporting policies more comprehensive and more transparent in general.
“Across the board, we needed better comprehensive reporting, we needed better data, to hold departments accountable, and in our case we needed to make our data more readily available to the public,” he said.
Jennings wrapped his remarks about 8 Can’t Wait on Tuesday by stating that he’s confident that the department will satisfy each of the initiatives in a “very short time frame,” while defending the department’s launch of the 8 Isn’t Enough survey, even as the department hasn’t quite met the standards of the first eight initiatives.
“Our goal is to be 100% compliant with this,” he said. “I do agree that we have to agree on the eight that we currently have, but there’s room for both. There’s no reason to say that we cannot give additional input, so we’re going to be doing that as well and we want to make sure that those replies are reflective of the community that we’re serving, so we’re trying to make sure that we get a diverse source of replies out there so we can make a sound judgment and decision based on what the city of Charlotte would like to see.”
The Work Ahead
The SCCIG is expected to have full reports and recommendations for tye Safe Communities Committee by the end of September, which Rios told committee members on Tuesday seemed like a “Herculean task” that felt overwhelming to some. The 8 Can’t Wait campaign is just one of many tasks that face the SCCIG, which is also expected to report on police reform items like oversight, budget, youth programs, community engagement, training and more.
“There are frustrations around not having enough time to work,” Rios said on Tuesday. “The individuals in this group really want to understand what it is that they’re being tasked with. They want to have a depth of knowledge around the topic, and in so doing, be able to present the best possible information to this committee.”
Safe Communities Committee chair Larken Egleston addressed Rios’ concerns, stating that he wants to work with the SCCIG to find a medium between working quickly and working effectively.
“I’m torn because we are simultaneously dealing with a call to act quickly, and then also we’re being told by our input groups and we’re seeing on our own agendas when we try to bite off too much of this at one time, it’s hard to do it effectively,” he said. “Obviously there is a happy middle ground in there somewhere. It’s going to be difficult to find undoubtedly, but I think we as a committee need to try to get close to being on the same page in terms of how do we want to balance that expediency with effectiveness, and I’m not sure we’ve found the right middle ground yet, but we’ll keep trying.”