By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director
The family of Keith Scott, who was shot to death by Charlotte police, has been given access to video from that shooting. But that’s as far as Police Chief Kerr Putney is willing to go in the interest of “transparency.” This, after intense street protests and a state of emergency being declared in that city following Scott’s death.
Putney repeated his intention to keep the video private, at least until his department’s investigation is complete. He concedes the video doesn’t definitively show Scott pointing a gun at officers. Scott’s family contends he was shot without provocation, while reading a book. Putney says his officers recovered a gun--but no book--at the scene.
RTDNA believes this record—like police videos elsewhere—are public record just like arrest reports and 9-1-1 transcripts. But the issue surrounding body cams has become contentious in cities and states around the country. In some cases, like North Carolina, municipalities and state legislatures have placed limits or even bans on making such videos public.
In North Carolina, the legislature passed a law prohibiting release of body cam footage without a court order. It’s bad law, in our opinion. But even at that, the bill doesn’t take effect until October 1st—giving Putney and the city of Charlotte a window to release this video now.
RTDNA believes it must. One of the primary reasons for recording police activities is to insure there is an accurate record of events as they occur. Body cam and dashboard video can provide evidence that can indict or exonerate police officers. It’s a much-needed measure of transparency—but only if it’s made more widely available.
But there are those like Chief Putney who define transparency differently. “If you think I’m saying we should display a victim’s worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency I’m speaking of.”
So Charlotte and North Carolina become the latest focus of a contentious issue that’s not likely to be resolved anytime soon. But RTDNA agrees with and supports those who call on police agencies and legislatures to act on the side of free and open access to information. It is only by taking that approach that the public can truly be informed.