Mecklenburg County’s 60,000 residents who don’t live in Charlotte or in the county’s six small towns could be getting new police protection in a little over a year.
Mecklenburg commissioners voted 9-0 Tuesday to sever an agreement with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department – which is run by the city of Charlotte – to serve those rural areas, which are on the edges of the county.
The vote came after years of discontent over the agreement and, more recently, after a request from Huntersville that its police force patrol the unincorporated areas that surround the town. Huntersville told commissioners it doesn’t make sense for CMPD to respond to calls for the nearly 2,400 people who live near the town but just outside the town limits.
“For $3 million we can do a much better job than what’s being done now,” said Huntersville Police Chief Cleveland Spruill.
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He said he “hoped this day would never come,” but that the town and the city of Charlotte couldn’t come to an agreement.
The county estimates that it has to pay the city of Charlotte about $18 million annually so CMPD can serve the 60,000 people in unincorporated Mecklenburg. Those residents pay slightly higher property taxes for that service.
The city and county have had the police agreement since 1996.
Mecklenburg Commissioner Jim Puckett, a Republican, said Charlotte forced the county’s hand.
He said the city should allow Huntersville to patrol areas near the town, and CMPD could continue to serve areas around Charlotte and other towns. But he said the city has refused to amend the contract, which doesn’t allow for towns to opt out.
“The city could offer an amendment, but they have no interest in doing that,” he said.
Puckett also doesn’t think the rural residents are getting their money’s worth.
“That money makes its way into the city of Charlotte’s coffers,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily make it to CMPD. They are taking the money and then performing whatever minimal service needs to happen.”
Puckett said CMPD Chief Kerr Putney told him that Huntersville police could serve the areas more effectively.
“But the current city manager (Marcus Jones) doesn’t want to give up the money,” he said.
City spokesperson Sandy D’Elosua said Tuesday that the city “continues to have discussions on this matter and is working together with Mecklenburg County to determine the next steps.”
The county’s vote will end the relationship with CMPD in July 2018. In the meantime, the county will ask the towns and the Sheriff’s Office to brainstorm ways to patrol and serve the areas.
The city of Charlotte can also participate in the discussions, but commissioners don’t want the all-or-nothing agreement that they have today.
“My hope is this will bring them to the table,” said Democratic commissioner George Dunlop.
The funding formula for the unincorporated areas is based on the percentage of their land mass compared with the rest of the areas that CMPD serves.
But Republican Bill James said those areas don’t have the crime problems of inner-city Charlotte and aren’t as expensive to serve.
“I don’t believe the money goes to those services,” he said. “The money goes to support the CMPD. They don’t represent 7 percent of the crime problem. Money is taken from these people and used for protection in other parts of Charlotte.”
Last year, CMPD hired roughly 60 officers to deal with a growing crime problem in the city. The department has also asked the city for 62 additional officers for the upcoming fiscal year.
Spruill questioned whether the unincorporated areas would see any of those new officers.
“They have no beat officers assigned to the area,” he said. “Of those 62 officers, how many will be assigned to extra-territorial jurisdiction?”
Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla said their officers have much lower response times than CMPD.
“This isn’t a numbers issue for us,” he said. “It’s a safety issue.”