Police chief plans big shake-up

In a sweeping reorganization at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Chief Rodney Monroe plans to reassign about 100 officers and put more of them on the street.

His plan includes disbanding specialized units, boosting gang and narcotics enforcement and coordinating the department's community programs to better combat youth violence.

Under the plan, police will be more visible in neighborhoods and better equipped to fight crime instead of reacting to it, Monroe told a breakfast crowd Saturday.

The chief acknowledged that some of his officers aren't going to like the changes but said: “We can't expect to keep doing the same things and get different results.”

Monroe was hired last month. He came from Richmond, Va., a few months after Charlotte's crime had spiked, heightening residents' concerns.

Property and violent crimes reported through May continued to outpace crime during the same period last year. Violent crime is up 8.4 percent and property crime increased 9.7 percent.

The increasing numbers also included a spike in thefts from automobiles – the city's most prevalent crime – which jumped 27.3 percent from the same period in 2007.

The trend prompted hundreds of residents to demand answers from city hall and the new chief, who is crafting a reorganization plan similar to a strategy he used in Richmond. There, he shuffled the command staff, reassigned veterans and dismantled specialty units.

Even with the recent hiring of 36 rookies, CMPD, which has 1,600 sworn officers, has too many vacancies in the patrol division, Monroe said. And there are almost none in the department's specialized units.

It wasn't immediately clear Saturday how many officers make up those units.

Among them is a highway interdiction team that has a captain, three sergeants and 24 officers, who handle traffic enforcement and investigate accidents. Other specialty teams include the street crimes unit, which has at least three sergeants and a captain who target violent crime through investigations with patrol officers in the city's most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

The department also has a unit that works to apprehend the most violent offenders and people on the agency's “Most Wanted” list.

Monroe declined to give specifics or say which of the department's specialized units could disappear in August when his plan is done. And he is still working out a system for selecting which officers will be reassigned.

But his plan is to move them into 39 patrol areas across the city and restructure the leadership so there is someone in charge for each area 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said. It is likely officers will work different days and different hours in response to where and when crimes are happening.

Critics worry that losing specialized units, such as the International Relations team, could have a negative impact.

“… Officers in that unit have made inroads with specific communities – including immigrant groups that don't tend to be comfortable with police officers,” said at-large Mecklenburg County commissioner Dan Ramirez.

The international unit, which has about six officers, has spent seven years working with different ethnic groups, engaging in various activities and sports. The unit also developed an English/Spanish Web site.

“(They) have been trained not just to speak the language, but to recognize the cultural differences,” Ramirez said. “That is very valuable when you are enforcing the law.”

Monroe said that while specialized units can be effective, they are a luxury for a department that does not have enough officers on the street to properly deal with the rise in property and other crimes.

“I can't expect (patrol officers) to bring about change without the proper resources,” Monroe said. “They need more muscle, more support.”

In his usual energetic style, Monroe spoke at the Ballantyne Breakfast Club meeting. He offered only snippets of his plan and gave 150 participants a stump-speech on his goals.

Among them: focusing police officers in specific crime-ridden areas, building more relationships with federal agencies and working with the district attorney on setting common priorities, such as the enforcement and prosecution of property crimes that have been defined as a major problem by the community.

“It's going to be hard … and challenging,” Monroe said. “I hope they (prosecutors) will be able to lend the support we need to make this thing work.”

Charlotte City Councilman John Lassiter said he welcomes Monroe's attention and renewed focus to issues that have left many people feeling unsafe – something that hasn't happened in Charlotte in a very long time.

Lassiter attended the breakfast club – a group that provides a forum for south Charlotte residents – with council members Anthony Foxx, Andy Dulin, Edwin Peacock and Warren Cooksey.

Besides redeploying officers, Monroe said he will realign the department's gang philosophy by shifting its focus from gathering information about gang activity to stronger enforcement.

He said he'll give more details when the plan is done. He also wants to better coordinate some of the programs within the department that deal with the systemic problems in the community that lead to youth violence.

Staff Writer Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed.