Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police announced Wednesday a new program that will connect local organizations and agencies with families in one Charlotte neighborhood, and eventually with families around the city.
What wasn’t immediately clear were details of what the Community Empowerment Initiative will do. Chief Kerr Putney said leaders in the initiative’s first neighborhood, Hidden Valley, will decide the goals for themselves, starting with a kick-off meeting where local organizations will explain the services available and community members can describe their needs.
The kick-off meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet, and some Hidden Valley residents at the announcement said they hadn’t heard anything about the initiative before Wednesday.
Putney insisted the criminal justice process won’t be the focus of the program.
“Community policing, very little of it is about policing. Almost all of it is about the community,” Putney said. CMPD plans to hold monthly check-ins on the program’s progress.
Hidden Valley residents said they’re concerned about the neighborhood’s reputation, which they said has also been hurt by local journalists identifying the location of any crime along the North Tryon and Sugar Creek corridors as Hidden Valley.
The neighborhood struggled with a gang problem for about 20 years. In 2003, the Observer reported that the Hidden Valley Kings had hundreds of members – but a CMPD crackdown in the past decade significantly limited the gang’s reach, and in 2016 police said the gang had nearly disappeared.
Hidden Valley Community Association President Ella Williams said she sees the program as an honor for the neighborhood’s 16,000 residents. She said police and neighborhood leaders in Hidden Valley have long worked closely together, and she first heard about the new initiative from CMPD in May or June.
“I think (police) saw from the crime stats that if we could make any component of the community stronger, then there’s going to be less police involvement, so I think that’s why they’re on board,” she said.
Williams said community leaders already offer some of what CMPD said the initiative will provide, such as mediation. But she hopes the initiative will produce a central, convenient location for community services to help residents who can’t afford to travel across the city.
Longtime Hidden Valley resident John Wall had questions about the community’s ability to determine the initiative’s work.
“This meeting, to me, is like the CATS light rail project that we were involved in. We were called to the table after the train had left the station,” he said.
Putney urged Wall to get involved, starting with the kick-off meeting. Wall said his first concern is gentrification, and Putney replied that the initiative will be holistic enough to help with issues like housing.
Maj. Freda Lester led CMPD’s plans for the initiative, and she named some of the organizations that will be involved, including Anuvia Prevention and Recovery Center, Goodwill, Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center, and a variety of city and county programs, from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office to the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Services office.
Police have long said that the way to reduce crime is to work with young people. For this program, they’re broadening that focus to families, which makes sense to community member Ida Dunston, who has lived in Hidden Valley for more than 40 years.
“You can’t do anything with the children until you get the parents,” she said. “So that seems to be the problem.”
Dunston said she goes to community meetings and hadn’t heard about the Community Empowerment Initiative before Wednesday, which concerned her. But she’s willing to see whether the program can help empower people in the neighborhood, especially young families.