CHARLOTTE, NC - In 2013, the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer was captured on a dash-mounted police car camera.
Five years later, Ferrell's mother says his siblings still haven't recovered from watching the video.
"They came out screaming and sick from it," said Georgia Ferrell.
But despite how hard it was to watch, she says it was important video to have.
"If that video had not been there, it would have been just word of mouth," she explained.
The video evidence led to a manslaughter charge and Officer Randall "Wes" Kerrick was put on trial.
But today, CMPD Captain Mike Harris says the department's dash cam fleet is fading.
"The current system, unfortunately, doesn't really have any technical support. For lack of a better term, it's obsolete," he explained.
What started as 645 cameras in cruisers in 2009 has dwindled to 220 today. The manufacturer, Panasonic, stopped supporting the system four years ago and now the department can't find spare parts for repairs. A plan to switch to solely to police body cameras hasn't panned out.
"Those cameras, they sit dead center between the two [shirt] pockets, and what we found is you don't get anything," Harris explained.
The camera is often blocked by the steering wheel of the police car during incidents like traffic stops or police chases.
"You see what the limitations are. There's a lot of movement with body cams, so you don't always get the full information, and you've got to get the full picture of what's happening," said Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt.
So now, Charlotte city officials are shifting the strategy to try to have both body cameras and dash cameras. CMPD is reviewing the purchase of new dash cams and is currently testing devices in three divisions.
But doubling up comes with a cost.
"Probably at a minimum $6 million, but it could be more," said Harris.
That's for the dash cams to be installed in a fleet that has grown to 900 vehicles over the original 645 that were installed when the department first began using dash cameras.
Harris calls it a critical investment.
"It's paramount to the organization as a whole because we want to be transparent," he said. "And the only way to do that is to have access to video that shows everything."
But, it's a lot of money.
"I don't think it's a matter of whether everybody wants that technology, it's being able to pay for both," said Eiselt.
Ferrell's mother says it's worth it.
"What about our lives and our children's lives?" she asked. "Shouldn't it be worth to us millions, better yet billions? Because you can't get that back."
CMPD could be ready to make a proposal to buy new dash cameras to the city this fall.
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