Chief to beef up patrols

Police Chief Rodney Monroe has launched a sweeping reorganization that will change the way police approach crime across Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

The changes – announced Friday and set to take effect Sept. 6 – are the department's most significant overhaul in almost a decade. Monroe, who has been on the job 47 days, said he wants to “emphasize the front-line response to crime.”

He's sending 89 officers from specialty units back to patrol. He'll beef up the gang unit and change the way the department investigates most nonfatal shootings.

Ultimately, he expects to ask City Council for more officers.

In a major restructuring, Monroe will install commanders in each of the city's 39 response areas, which are now supervised by 13 captains. The new commanders will be responsible for their territory around the clock and must account to their captains and the chief for their area's crime numbers every month.

The revamp comes at a time when a spike in crime – and several high-profile killings and robberies – has prompted residents to demand solutions.

Through June, violent crime was up 8.1 percent and property crime increased 7.4 percent, compared to the same period last year.

“We're setting a framework for us to move into the future,” Monroe said Friday, during remarks to a crowd of officers, residents and media at police headquarters.

The new organization resembles the approach Monroe took as chief in Richmond.

Under former CMPD Chief Darrel Stephens, who retired in June, the department tended to rely on centralized specialty units to attack hot-button crime problems.

Monroe wants front-line officers and supervisors to identify and attack the biggest crime problems in each response area. Some might choose to focus on robberies and assaults, while others target burglaries or thefts from vehicles.

Reactions to Monroe's plan varied Friday as people tried to digest the overhaul.

Immigrant advocates worry about the loss of the international relations unit that served as liaisons to the community.

Laurie Nelson, who led a march on City Hall this spring in response to rising crime, said many were adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

And at least one City Council member said she'd keep an open mind if Monroe asks the city for more money.

“We have consistently indicated that public safety is one of our top priorities,” said Nancy Carter, a Democrat from east Charlotte. “If that's true, we have to substantiate it.”

Monroe expects some resistance from officers and residents, but says his overhaul will create advancement opportunities within the department and should reduce crime.

Among the changes:

Overhauling patrol

The department's 1,062 patrol officers will be divided into two divisions, overseen by two of the highest ranking officers. Currently, Deputy Chief Jerry Sennett oversees the entire patrol division.

Sennett will now supervise the northern division, and Deputy Chief Kerr Putney will handle the southern. The change allows for closer scrutiny by top department leaders, Monroe said.

The activities of other police units must support priorities identified by patrol.

Investigators “can't be working on a prostitution sting or a drug problem unless someone in patrol says ‘that's a priority,'” Monroe said.

Focusing on neighborhoods

The officers in each of the department's 39 response areas will examine statistical trends to help set priorities. The new commanders will report monthly on their strategies to combat crime.

It's a tactic Monroe imported from Richmond, where community leaders credit his focus on neighborhood-specific crime fighting with a sharp drop in crime.

Disbanding specialized units

In all, 89 officers from specialized units will be sent to patrol divisions, with more than a third coming from the department's street crimes unit.

Monroe says some of the redeployed officers will continue to do specialty work within their new areas, while others will go on patrol.

Redeploying the specialty units seemed to draw the most skepticism from the community.

“The concern I have is that a lot of the inroads the (international relations officers) have made in the community will be lost with the disbanding of this unit,” said Republican county commissioner Dan Ramirez, who supports the overall restructuring.

But Monroe counters that he expects all officers to reach out to minority communities, rather than relying on a special team.

Monroe also wants to increase diversity of the force to better match the demographics of Charlotte.

Officers in the street crimes unit – which worked between divisions to combat robberies and assaults – will also return to patrol.

Monroe wants patrol officers to form their own “focused mission teams” that could perform special duties previously handled by the street crimes unit.

But retired officer Randy Hagler, now president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fraternal Order of Police, said some changes seem hasty.

“Some of these units have been years in the making,” Hagler said. “And to eliminate them this quickly seems to me to be short-sighted. … There was little discussion with the rank-and-file about these changes. They were just handed down.”

Cracking down on gangs

Monroe will nearly double the department's gang unit, which now will include more than a dozen officers.

His goal is “to dismantle localized gangs within the city,” he said.

Also, expect more collaboration with federal authorities, which Monroe hopes will result in longer prison sentences for gang members.

Shooting investigations

The department will assign 14 detectives to investigate non-fatal shootings, which are currently investigated by patrol officers.

The move would free patrol officers from cases that often are complicated and lengthy, Monroe said, and ensure that all shootings are vigorously investigated by detectives.

“If I get shot twice and I live, it's investigated by a patrol officer. If I get shot once and I die, it's investigated by a homicide detective,” Monroe said. “Something is wrong with that.”