Newly minted City Council member Julie Eiselt was appointed chair of the community safety committee last week, making her the head of the group that oversees the police and fire departments.
She says she has a few ideas for making Charlotte safer.
I met Eiselt in 2007 when she helped form Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte, a group dissatisfied about rising crime. Eiselt took an interest in crime trends after she was mugged outside the Dowd YMCA, a crime that’s never been solved.
Eiselt and other group members asked police for detailed crime statistics to get a better sense of what was driving jumps in crime. And they pressed police on whether they were doing enough to bring down crime. They also pushed for more public funding for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and the courts.
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Later, Eiselt became a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police foundation, a private group that raises money for police initiatives.
Eiselt said she plans to speak with police Chief Kerr Putney and other public safety leaders for a finer grasp of Charlotte’s crime problem. But she also elaborated on some of the ideas she wants to explore as chair.
▪ More police officers.
Eiselt joined the chorus of City Council members who have called for additional officers. Now the city must iron out how many officers to add to the police force and how the city is going to pay for it. We’ve previously reported that hiring more officers would likely require a tax increase.
The last time the city increased the size of the police force was in 2008, although that was about half the number then-police Chief Rodney Monroe requested.
“We know we need more police officers; it’s obvious that’s how people feel,” Eiselt said. “We didn’t get nearly what we wanted in 2008. Now we need to look at how many police officers we need.”
▪ More collaboration between law enforcement agencies.
Eiselt said she wanted the police and the district attorney’s office to find ways to collaborate on old problems and new initiatives.
She believes collaboration has worked in the past. Over the past five years, for example, both CMPD and the district attorney’s office have focused on the worst repeat offenders, who authorities believe are responsible for the bulk of the crime. Police tracked many of them with court-ordered electronic monitoring, then sent officers to bail hearings and court appearances to give a full criminal history of the suspects.
That collaboration can be hard, Eiselt said, because the departments report to different groups with different priorities and funding sources.
“We found that we really have to look outside of our own silos,” Eiselt said. “The police report to the city; the sheriff reports to the county, and the (district attorney) reports to the state.”
▪ Enlisting the private sector.
Eiselt said she wants to see whether the city can use the energy – and the money – of the private sector to help fight crime.
She said she plans to explore whether private citizens can start an organization similar to the CMPD foundation that could help pay for initiatives in the district attorney’s office.
She also wants to see whether private donors could start a scholarship fund for young people who want to become police officers.
“I think there are different efforts that are already underway,” she said. “The job of the city is kind of to lift those up and to give them structure so that they can help.”