Panel set to help county fight crime

With $2 million set aside and a team of high-profile citizen-activists, Mecklenburg County is taking aim at crime.

County commissioners Tuesday appointed a 14-member panel that will tackle the city's sluggish justice system at a time when many residents feel Charlotte has grown unsafe.

The Justice and Public Safety Task Force was culled from a pool of 350 applicants and includes a mix of big names and behind-the-scenes advocates. It will meet a half-dozen times, beginning this month and ending around September. Then, the group will make suggestions to commissioners, who have budgeted $2 million to implement recommendations.

“This is going to give us a road map to game plan for some needed reform,” said Jennifer Roberts, county commissioners chairman. “It is time for some citizen input, and we hope that with their help, we can come up with holistic solutions for our justice system and the community.”

The task force is made up of seven white, four black and one Latino member; there are six men and six women; seven Democrats and five Republicans.

It's co-chaired by former Superior Court Judge Shirley Fulton and Harry Nurkin, retired chief executive of Carolinas HealthCare System.

Fulton is a black Democrat. Nurkin is white and unaffiliated.

“It's a fairly diverse group that sort of mirrors Charlotte and Mecklenburg,” Nurkin said.

The group is Robert's brainchild. Inspired by last year's county jail master plan, and pushed on by a growing outcry over crime, she called for a citizen-led group to search for solutions.

She said Wednesday she expects the task force to dig into longstanding problems, including lengthy jail stays for pretrial inmates.

A recent study found inmates who don't make bail and are awaiting trials often wait more than 230 days, Roberts said.

“That's almost double the 150-day stay in Raleigh,” she said. “That is just unacceptable and must be changed.”

Roberts said she hopes the group will also figure ways to reduce repeat offenders and expand treatment options for criminals.

“Whether it is expanding the drug court or helping more mentally ill get treatment, I expect the task force to help us figure out the right way to unclog our system,” she said.

Task force member Tonyia Rawls, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church, said she joined the group because she has seen up close the damage crime does to families.

“I believe Charlotte has a small window of time as we shape and frame this next phase of our community life,” Rawls said. “Equitable treatment and protection of all of our citizens is a key component of us becoming the world-class city we desire to be.”

Task force appointees are: Mary Howerton, former executive director of the Mecklenburg County Bar; Mark Sumwalt, attorney; Chris Swecker, global security director for Bank of America; Cheryl Ellis, principal of Sugar Creek Charter School; John Vaughan, physician; Richard Martin, vice president of business continuity, Bank of America; Zeke Burns, CEO of OMITT Trade School; Tonyia Rawls, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church; Ericka Ellis-Stewart, of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, Johnston Branch; William Munson of TIAA-CREF; Rivana Stadtlander, homemaker; and Maudia Melendez, of Jesus Ministry Inc.