On the day after the voluntary manslaughter trial of one of his officers ended in a hung jury, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney spent Saturday morning at a school bookbag give-away where many were upset with the mistrial.
Putney didn’t come in his chief’s uniform, but a purple pull-over shirt, blue jeans and sandals. He greeted many in the mostly African-American crowd at the Sugaw Creek Recreation Center on West Sugar Creek Road and had his photo taken with them. When trophies needed handing out, the chief did it.
In Teresa Farmer’s view, he showed “courage” and respect.
“Whether the chief is black or white, to see him here shows he’s somebody who actually cares,” Farmer said. “It’s very important for the chief to be out here after that trial so people can feel a sense of confidence that the police department cares about them.
“I felt good when I saw him here. He didn’t have to come – but he did.”
Putney said that going to the event is part of the community engagement that he’s emphasizing to his officers. The emphasis on community relations is nothing new, but he said he plans to intensify efforts because he knows that post-trial tensions are raw.
Ever since the department arrested Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, efforts like the “Cops and Barbers” town meetings have brought CMPD officers together in meaningful conversation with the community. Saturday’s event was organized by “Cops and Barbers” founder Shaun “Lucky” Corbett, a Charlotte barber.
Putney and City Manager Ron Carlee credited those initiatives with keeping the post-trial protest relatively restrained.
“This is Cops and Barbers 2.0,” Putney said about his appearance at the event where basketball teams fielded from the police, fire and sheriff’s departments played each other.
“It’s about outreach. It’s about connecting with people in a way that is not threatening. There’s evidence that we still have divisions in this city – including feelings about the police department. We are trying to be much more accessible and empathetic and compassionate with the people that we serve.
“It’s a way to keep this city safe and, I think, it keeps our officers safe as well. But there’s a lot more work to be done.”
Carlee commended CMPD officers for their restraint during Friday’s protests. He said protesters kept the demonstrations from escalating.
“I appreciated the regulation among the protesters themselves,” he said. “When some got out of hand, others stepped in and talked to them.”
The bridge-building, he said, is critical to build trust and defusing tensions. “It’s what we’ve been doing in Charlotte for a long time,” he said. “This is what we’re committed to doing going forward. People know that this city and this police department cares about justice.”
Charlotte lawyer William Harding, one of the event’s sponsors, said the relations make it easier for officers to do their job.
“Particularly after the trial, it shows people that the police department isn’t just policing the community, it’s involved with the community,” Harding said. “It’s a lot easier for them to do their job if they have a presence in the community other than just cracking down on them.”
Several police officers brought an array of machinery they use like a fully armored SWAT Bearcat (Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck) that became a jungle-gym with children.
Four-year-old Ryan Carr was one. When he left Saturday with his grandparents, Thomas and Michelle Carr, he waved to the officers and shouted: “Bye Mr. Policeman.”
“I like them,” he told his grandparents. “They keep us safe.”