Why the Charlotte OIS video shouldn’t be released

Calls for police use of force transparency overlook the real risk to public safety personnel by releasing the video


Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney’s decision to delay the release of the OIS video is the subject of current debate. The officers on scene declared Keith Lamont Scott had a gun and the public is saying that he had a book. It is possible he had both in his possession. The fact of the matter is that we do not know, but in time we will know the totality of the circumstances.  

Several law enforcement officers, the family of the victim, members of the community and the media are openly discussing that transparency by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will resolve the unrest. Transparency is being narrowly defined as showing the video footage of the incident.

CMPD is being broadly transparent by keeping the media and the public updated on their actions since the incident occurred. The current calls for transparency are conveniently overlooking the real risk to public safety posed by the release of the video in the current climate and protecting the public and the emergency responders is the Putney's primary responsibility.

Protesters block I-277 during a third night of unrest following Tuesday's police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Protesters block I-277 during a third night of unrest following Tuesday's police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

While there are a number of reasons behind the Putney's informed decision, here are two reasons why I believe the Putney's call is the right one.

1. Limited viewing during an active investigation
Tuesday’s incident is an open investigation. In a press conference Thursday, Putney said that he is only showing the video of the OIS to the family of the slain man. While public outcry and pressure from the media to release the video is worthy of leadership deliberation, I respect the Chief’s decision to keep the video guarded during an active investigation of an incident that occurred only a few days ago.

2. Right now, restoring order is paramount
The risk of increased rioting is a serious matter for Putney to factor. There are a number of steps that need to be taken before any evidence should be released. Protesters are highly adaptive and unpredictable during civil unrest and Putney's decision to hold off the release of the video may help the city restore order before things get worse. Charlotte is already in a state of emergency and releasing the video can potentially result in additional havoc and put bystanders and officers in unnecessary danger. During civil unrest, the city is likely factoring in their resources, from force protection and interoperability to equipment and critical infrastructure assessments such as hospitals and telecommunications. That takes time and careful evaluation.

Consequence management is in the public’s and city’s best interest. Releasing the video too soon will conjure more emotions and unpredictable behavior and may impact the agency’s investigation. Community and officer safety is a more important and urgent matter than releasing the video.       

Putney's decision to delay publicly releasing the video is a responsible one, regardless of whether it may put to rest speculation about the nature of the shooting. It’s too hard to predict the response of an angry crowd or expect a rational reaction. In time, it is likely that the video of the OIS will be released, but the time is not now. 

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