‘We’re not done': New CMPD chief lays out policing policy changes

CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is making a major change to its policing policies.

In June, officers used chemical agents during protests and the department got a lot of heat from the community, and civil rights groups filed a lawsuit.

CMPD promised to change policies, but the department has been criticized for not doing enough in the past two months. When protests for Black Lives Matter hit the streets of uptown two months ago, CMPD -- like many police departments around the country -- committed to making changes.

Some have questioned whether they’re actually doing that though.

New CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings took on those questions Wednesday. He has not shied away from the anger and frustration directed at police when protests spilled out onto the streets earlier this summer. Calls for police reform around the country ramped up in a movement called “8 Can’t Wait” -- eight changes activists said police need to make to reduce police killings.

Jennings is barely a month into his new job -- a month that he has spent a lot of time focusing on those concerns addressed by the community during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the discussions that have followed.

He said he wants the community to know the police are listening.

Some of those questions came after the protests, and riots that followed. Questions about police tactics during those protests, including the use of tear gas and chemical agents against protesters.

And then there are the bigger questions that have been on the table for a long time, concerning use of force and de-escalation policies.

On Wednesday, Jennings laid out a wide range of changes that CMPD is making or considering, including:

  • Updating their neglect of duty policy, requiring officers to step in if they see other officers using too much force.
  • Banning not only chokeholds but any hold that cuts off oxygen to the brain.
  • Placing body cameras on riot control supervisors in order to give authorities a better view of what’s happening during confrontations.
  • Revising the use of chemical agents -- like tear gas, specifically -- and giving clear dispersal orders just before they’re used, as well as not using them to block escape routes for protesters.
  • Reviewing the “8 Can’t Wait” initiative -- a national movement to adopt eight policies aimed at reducing police violence.

Jennings told Channel 9 he’s committed to addressing those issues.

“A lot of these changes have been as a result of us hearing the community and hearing what some of the concerns they have with our agency and with policing in general,” he said. “And I thought it was a good time when we could come in and say, ‘This is where we are.’ We’re not done. We have a lot of work to do, we know that. And we’re going to continue to do that work.”

Kass Ottley, who is with Seeking Justice CLT, led Charlotte protests for Black Lives Matter. On Wednesday, she said police have a long way to go before they can claim to have made all the changes outlined in “8 Can’t Wait.” But both sides said they’re willing to work to get there.

“I feel like it’s a step in the right direction,” Ottley told Channel 9. “We want answers and we want corrections, but I think the community wants it done right.”

Ottley said the City Council Safe Community Input Group needs more time to review CMPD policies and review its language.

Jennings said the police department is willing to do their part to make changes but building trust between police and the community is something that goes both ways.

CMPD has received 5,000 responses to a survey they sent out a few months ago, but Jennings said they need to hear more from the Hispanic and African American community so they have a better understanding of what they need to work on.

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