New Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney faces an immediate challenge: guiding the department, and the city, through what’s expected to be an emotional trial of an officer accused of killing an unarmed black man.
Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee on Monday announced Putney, a 23-year-veteran, as CMPD’s next chief – the first officer to rise through the ranks to head the department since 1994.
Putney has support from the force and from city and business leaders, but many said it was important to pick a new chief quickly after Police Chief Rodney Monroe announced his retirement, effective July 1.
The city is bracing itself for the July 20 trial of Randall Kerrick, a white officer accused of killing Jonathan Ferrell. The hearing will bring the nation’s attention to Charlotte and put the police department’s training and policies under a microscope.
And city leaders worry Charlotte will face unrest like other places where white officers have killed black citizens. The department’s decision to charge one of its own officers has also inflamed tensions among police.
“The Kerrick trial is going to break hearts on either side,” said City Council member Claire Fallon, who has publicly pushed for Putney’s hiring. “Why bring in someone who doesn’t know us?”
Moments after the announcement was made, Putney acknowledged his first big test: “We have a trial coming up.”
He said preparations are underway. “We’ve got to be empathetic, compassionate, but we also have to make sure people respect our city,” he said. “It’s good to protest. It’s good to demonstrate, but you will not riot.”
Still, the trial will require the self-described introvert to have a more public face and to work to build alliances. Alluding to his demeanor, Putney joked that both his mother and Monroe say he needs to smile more. Later, he thanked his supporters.
“I must thank the entire CMPD family and the community as a whole, who rallied around me when I needed it most,” he said. “I will never forget the overwhelming support and encouragement, and I will not let you down. Thank you.”
‘The perfect choice’
Monroe announced his retirement in mid-May. The city contacted a consulting firm shortly afterward. The firm reportedly told city officials that CMPD already had strong internal candidates and that a national search wouldn’t be necessary, according to people familiar with how Putney was selected.
Carlee said he met with many community and business leaders who urged him to hire the new chief from within the department. While considering internal candidates, he said Putney was often recommended.
It appears that Putney has been quietly auditioning for the role as chief for the past several weeks. At the June 7 “Cops and Barbers” town hall event in which police and the community talk about potentially violent interactions, Putney served as moderator and took some of the toughest questions. Carlee and city council members watched from the rear.
Monroe introduced Putney and then said nothing else for the rest of the event. Putney said Monroe recommended him for the job.
Putney is the longest-serving of CMPD’s five deputy chiefs and has risen quickly through the department’s ranks.
CMPD’s criminal investigations units reported to Putney at the time of Kerrick’s arrest. Putney was involved in the decision to charge Kerrick.
Kerrick faces a voluntary manslaughter charge in connection with the 2013 death of Ferrell, who was shot 10 times from close range. Police announced Kerrick would be charged less than a day after the fatal shooting.
Fallon, who heads the department’s community safety committee, said she believes Putney is the best person to lead the department through the Kerrick trial, and beyond. She suggested Carlee hire Putney as chief days after Monroe announced his retirement.
“He’s wonderful,” she said. “He was the perfect choice. And we don’t have the time to go looking for somebody that can’t be any better than he is.”
Different style than Monroe
When the city announced Monroe’s hiring in 2008, he shook hands with police officers on his way to the lectern before declaring: “Here I am, Charlotte!” Later, he was a member of a local charity version of “Dancing With the Stars.”
In contrast, Todd Walther, the head of the local Fraternal Order of Police described Putney as “definitely no-nonsense.” Officers said Putney would often encourage officers working out in the department’s basement gym to run stairs with him to be in better physical condition.
But Putney said his demeanor doesn’t prevent him from connecting with people.
“I think introverts have been given a bad name,” he said. “We’re just as able to have conversations and talk to people, to connect with people. I think what we do is on a deeper level and then we let some of those deep relationships speak for us, instead of being like (Monroe) where he owns the whole room every time he walks in.”
He said now that he heads the department, he has no choice but to be more outspoken.
“The good thing is that I have that opportunity now. I don’t have to be the heavy, which is good. Get used to my face.”
▪ Longest-serving of five deputy chiefs.
▪ Member of Friendship Baptist Church.
▪ Named 2012 Citizen of the Year by his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.
▪ Graduated in 1992 from UNC Charlotte, where he transferred to be closer to a sister.
▪ 1,849 sworn officers, 452 civilian employees and a budget of $222 million.