City Council member LaWana Mayfield
Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s first black police chief, Rodney Monroe, will retire July 1 after leading the agency during a period of steady crime reduction, including a record low homicide total.
Monroe told City Manager Ron Carlee that retirement was “a very difficult decision that I have been contemplating for some time now.” He informed the rest of CMPD with an email later in the day.
“I’m honored to have served as your chief for seven years,” Monroe said in a statement. “CMPD has experienced historic crime reductions, fostered trust and built upon established community partnerships. None of this would have been achieved without the hard work and commitment from each and every member of our organization.”
Monroe, 58, was hired as chief in 2008 after stints in Macon, Ga., and in Richmond, Va.
His predecessor, Darrel Stephens was a nonconfrontational boss known for his book smarts but criticized because of the city’s soaring crime rate. Monroe is known as a tough law-and-order cop who learned policing during 21 years in Washington, D.C.’s police department.
The year before Monroe started as chief, 75 people were killed in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Seven years later, the department investigated 42 homicides, the lowest number since police began keeping track of uniform crime statistics in 1977.
CMPD credited the crime drop to better use of police technology and an increased emphasis on patrol.
But it’s unclear how big of a role the tactics played. Charlotte and other cities across the United States have been seeing drops in violent crime for decades, a trend that has baffled criminologists. In the first quarter of this year, violent crime jumped 21 percent compared with the same period last year. Nearly every category of violent crimes saw an increase.
Besides the declining crime rate, Monroe was also lauded for the department’s handling of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which brought hundreds of protesters to Charlotte, but resulted in no major incidents. During the convention, Monroe slept on a couch in his office and responded to major protests around the clock.
Monroe, who earns $211,853, has married old-school policing philosophies with the use of technology to boost the police department’s reach. He didn’t return calls and emails for comment.
His philosophy was to go after the city’s worst criminals – repeat offenders who officers believe are responsible for the bulk of the city’s crime. Police kept a database of those offenders, tracked them with court-ordered GPS monitors when they were out on bail and even went to their court hearings to lobby for tougher sentences.
Monroe’s first big move as chief was to put a bigger focus on patrol. He took cars away from some veterans, reassigned others and removed 89 officers from specialized investigative units and put them in squad cars. The changes irked some officers and community groups, but Monroe said the reorganization contributed to future crime drops.
During his first year, he went to the scene of every homicide, saying he wanted a better sense of what detectives in the field needed to solve crimes.
“He started to learn from us,” said Gary McFadden, a retired homicide detective. “And over time, he trusted us, he trusted our judgment.”
Julie Eiselt, a crime victim who helped start the advocacy group Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte and is now running for city council, said she appreciated Monroe’s frankness with community members about crime problems and potential solutions.
“He’s a straight shooter,” she said. “For people that are affected by crime, that’s what matters. They want to know that he’s going to call it for what it is. No one is going to get let off the hook for appearances’ sake. When you’re affected by crime, you don’t want to feel as if nobody cares.”
During Monroe’s tenure, he expanded the department’s use of computer analytics to determine where crimes would likely happen and where officers should patrol, and spoke at a congressional hearing on the topic. At Monroe’s request, the city council authorized the department to buy 1,400 body worn cameras, which will record interactions between citizens and police.
He has also had to contend with controversy.
Questions arose months after Monroe was hired when a whistleblower alleged his degree from Virginia Commonwealth University was improper because Monroe did not complete enough coursework for a transfer student. Two Virginia investigations found the degree was improperly awarded, but neither assigned blame to the chief. Monroe later obtained a degree in criminal justice from the University of Phoenix.
Instead of tapping a CMPD veteran for his chief of staff, Monroe brought in his second-in-command from Richmond, Va. And officers have complained about the promotion process within CMPD under Monroe, said Todd Walther, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 9, which represents CMPD officers.
In 2009, CMPD Officer Marcus Jackson was arrested and police later found he had sexually assaulted six women while on duty. The arrest raised questions about the hiring practices of CMPD, which failed during background checks to uncover a previous allegation of violence against women in Jackson’s past.
And Monroe was at the helm of the department as it was embroiled in the debate about whether officers are too quick to use force against minorities.
But he was praised by some for a quick response that helped avoid civil unrest. Monroe announced the decision to charge Officer Randall Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter hours after he shot and killed an unarmed black man, Jonathan Ferrell, who was seeking help after a car crash in eastern Mecklenburg. Kerrick’s trial is scheduled for July.
Many members of the Fraternal Order of Police, however, “feel that this decision regarding (Kerrick) was a bit rushed and we would have been a little more confident if it had been discussed with the District Attorney’s Office,” Walther said. “That’s always a question for an officer on the street – if he can do the right thing without being reprimanded for it.”
Partly in response to rising tensions, Monroe started the Cops and Barbers town hall meetings, where Charlotte residents could air their grievances with police, and officers could give more context about how they make decisions, including those involving the use of force. Some attendees went through a simulator that let them experience a use-of-force situation from an officer’s perspective.
It was unclear Monday how the city would pick a successor for Monroe. The city expects to release details about choosing his replacement later this week.
Staff writers Steve Harrison, Jim Morrill and staff researcher Maria David contributed.
About Chief Rodney Monroe
Background: grew up outside Washington, D.C., and became a police officer there in 1979.
Experience: He served as police chief in Macon, Ga., and in Richmond, Va., before coming to Charlotte in 2008.
Family: He and Marvette have two grown children and a grandson.