Since the killing of an unarmed man by a police officer in September, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have faced questions on two fronts.
Are officers properly trained to use deadly force? And, because the killing involved a black victim and a white officer, do police get enough diversity training?
In response to such questions from civil rights groups, police Chief Rodney Monroe said in an interview last week that his department is conducting a “realistic review” of training procedures. But he said the agency’s cultural diversity curriculum exceeds state standards and is more extensive than many other police departments. He also defended the use-of-force training.
A review of the department’s training and diversity by the Observer found:
• North Carolina requires officers to undergo about 18 hours of training related in some way to cultural diversity, CMPD trainers estimate. Recruits go through an additional 24 hours of curriculum related to diversity. That’s more hours than many other police departments in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South.
• As Charlotte employees, police officers receive four hours of cultural diversity training focused on creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace.
• About 45 percent of officers have gone through “Dismantling Racism” training, which includes lectures about systemic and institutional racism. The two-day training aims to help officers understand that they may have deeply rooted biases.
Randall Kerrick, the officer charged with voluntary manslaughter in the Sept. 14 killing of Jonathon Ferrell, had not been through this training at the time of the shooting. The department started the program in 2012, with recruits, and Kerrick, a second-year officer at the time, hadn’t been scheduled to attend yet.
• Officers receive 76 hours of firearms training, 56 hours of subject control and arrest techniques and four hours on the use-of-force continuum, a guideline for when officers should use a specific type of force. At a forum for police employees after Kerrick’s arrest, officers asked Monroe for more training in hand-to-hand fighting.
• CMPD doesn’t reflect Charlotte’s growing diversity. CMPD officers are 70 percent white, 20 percent black and 6 to 8 percent Hispanic, Monroe said. Overall, the city of Charlotte is 50 percent white, 35 percent black and 13.1 percent Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data.
Ferrell’s shooting sparked racial tensions in the city. The 24-year-old had just dropped off a co-worker in the Reedy Creek neighborhood in northeast Mecklenburg when he was involved in a wreck so bad he had to kick out the back window of his Toyota Camry to escape. A toxicology report released Friday showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.06, within the legal limit.
The former football player pounded on the door of a nearby home, Monroe said, but the woman who answered thought he was a robber and called 911.
Kerrick, 27, was the least experienced of the three officers who responded and the only one who fired his gun. Police say he pulled the trigger 12 times, striking Ferrell 10 times. Another officer unsuccessfully deployed his Taser. Nineteen hours later, Monroe announced Kerrick had been charged with voluntary manslaughter. The investigation continues, but the other officers, who are both black, have not faced any discipline.
Civil rights groups urged a tougher response, saying Kerrick should be charged with murder. They also say the city needs to do a better job training its officers to deal with diverse groups.
“We believe there must be trust, transparency and training,” the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP, told a group following the shooting. “When you give a person a badge and a gun ... with that power, you cannot be racist. With that power, you can’t look down on certain communities.”
Ferrell’s fiancee, Caché Heidel, and the Ferrell family attorney said they believe Kerrick’s unconscious biases overruled his training. Heidel said Kerrick wasn’t “fully prepared for that situation that night.”
Monroe told the Observer last week he disagreed and he believes Kerrick’s training properly prepared him “or else he wouldn’t have been out there.” He said his department doesn’t put improperly trained officers on the street.
“I believe that the training is adequate,” he said. “We make every concerted effort that we can to look at the most updated and relevant training when it comes to our officers. But you’re in a profession in which things happen so fast.”
Still, the chief said that an internal review is ongoing and that he’s looking at recruit training, in-service training and policies regarding use of force. He said the department hosted two forums after Kerrick was arrested in which officers could ask questions about training and tactics, including when it’s appropriate to use deadly force.
“Anytime you arrest one of your own police officers and charge him with voluntary manslaughter, that creates a great amount of fear within your own organization,” Monroe said. “People wanted to know to make sure what they’re thinking and how they’re trained and how they’re operating – that they’re still on the right track.”
At the forum, Monroe said, officers asked for the department to provide more ongoing training about how to physically subdue combative suspects without using weapons.
Ferrell’s death isn’t the only recent case in which police training has come under scrutiny. Valinda Streater is trying to figure out why a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer may have perceived her son as a threat before shooting him in the ribs in 2010.
She filed a suit in 2011, claiming that Officer Matthew Wilson used excessive force and broke with police procedures when he opened fire on Jeffery Green, wounding him twice. Green was 15 at the time. Wilson is still on the force.
Streater’s case was transferred to federal court in August.
Training on diversity issues
All of CMPD’s nearly 1,900 sworn officers have been through diversity training – as recruits and then through state-mandated training.
• As recruits, CMPD officers go through about 18 hours of diversity training mandated by the state and roughly 24 additional hours from the department.
In the training, officers learn how to identify people who may have physical or mental impairments. They’re taught how to interact with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. And they also learn how to make sure victims who don’t speak English are able to report crime.
Officers are also trained to identify and investigate a suspected hate crime.
• Outside the academy, CMPD recruits also receive the four hours of diversity training from the city focused on inclusion in the workplace.
• Officers in CMPD and across the state go through two hours of training every year to maintain their certification. That training includes juvenile minority sensitivity training. In 2010, for example, officers were required to learn about the role race has played in the formation of the juvenile justice system. In 2012, officers learned techniques for dealing with minority juveniles and diffusing emotionally intense situations.
• Since 2012, the department has also spent nearly $100,000 to put recruits and other officers through a program called “Dismantling Racism,” which is put on by a collaboration of juvenile judges.
“We’re having those very difficult conversations that you usually don’t have in a mixed setting,” said Capt. Pete Davis, who has analyzed the program for the department.
The two-day classes place officers in small groups with other government employees – teachers, social workers, court officials – to examine racial inequalities in courts, schools and social services.
Participants hear lectures and receive history lessons about programs that have perpetuated racial inequalities in the criminal justice systems. They also learn about research into implicit biases and how they affect a police officer’s or teacher’s response to a minority.
“We give some considerable time talking about implicit bias and how the brain works,” said Elisa Chinn-Gary, a family court administrator who helps run the “Dismantling Racism” program. “Sometimes it can lead to making wrong decisions and harming other people. ... The goal is to recognize the biases that you have and to check them.”
Most of CMPD’s leaders have been through the training and the department plans to send all new recruits through the program.
Overall, about 45 percent of officers have been through the training, but it could take several years for the entire department to complete it, said Maj. Mike Adams, who oversees training for the department. Monroe said parts of the program could be added to other training.
Building a diverse department
One of the best ways to improve race relations is by building a diverse department, Monroe and other law enforcement experts say.
“We’re not there yet,” Monroe said.
The department is more diverse than in the past: Seven years ago, 78 percent of officers were white.
CMPD offers a 5 percent pay increase to officers who are fluent in Spanish. In a 2011 report, Monroe said the department has focused on recruiting minorities and women.
The lack of minority officers is a challenge for departments nationwide.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about one in four officers was a member of a racial or ethnic minority in 2007. By contrast, in 2012 nearly four out of every 10 Americans identified themselves as a minority.
Best training practices
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department leads some other agencies in the region in diversity training. Raleigh, for example, provides the state-required diversity training but doesn’t go beyond that. Birmingham, Ala., has a two-hour course and includes some cultural diversity in other parts of the curriculum.
Most departments’ cultural diversity training focuses on cultural competency – teaching recruits to deal with a large cross-section of people, and emphasizing the need to treat everyone with respect.
But savvy departments try to get officers to recognize their own implicit biases, which can cause officers to treat minorities differently, said Lorie Fridell, a criminologist at the University of South Florida who studies police use of force and racially-biased policing.
Such biases, Fridell said, can affect officers’ behavior and perceptions even if they don’t think they’re racist.
“If there’s an African-American male in the middle of the night coming toward police,” she said, “implicit bias would present that person as more dangerous than a white woman in a sundress doing the same thing.”
CMPD uses the “Dismantling Racism” training to get officers to confront such implicit biases, Monroe said.
It’s more challenging for officers to do that in high-pressure situations, Fridell said.
Some of the latest training relies on stereotypes, Fridell said. In one interactive simulation set in a movie theater, she said, trainees often shoot a plain clothes black officer with a badge out. Trainees are usually killed by a woman.
CMPD also uses video simulations. Following a demonstration with a reporter last week, trainers emphasized that they encourage recruits and officers to make quick decisions about a person’s desire and ability to get violent, regardless of the person’s physical characteristics.
“We have to train our officers as it relates to protection of themselves and protection of the public,” Monroe said. “When someone’s pointing a gun at you, I don’t believe your thought process says whether this is a male, female, black or white. You see gun.”
Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson