Police turn up heat on violent crime in summer initiative

Police say a 10-week summer initiative to bring down violent crime across Charlotte-Mecklenburg is beginning to show results.

Across the city, police have seen 21 percent fewer gun crimes in 2014 than in 2013, according to police statistics. In one large swath of southeast Charlotte, violent crime is down 15 percent during the first six weeks of the initiative, said Lt. Ryan Jackson, who heads the effort there.

The nearly 60 officers involved in the summer initiative have confiscated more than 70 guns across the city, including at least 10 that were illegally in the hands of convicted felons, Jackson said.

Crime typically goes up during the summer months, when warm weather makes people more sociable, leading to more conflicts and more opportunities for crime. Police have engaged in summer projects before, often flooding crime-prone areas with officers and other police resources.

But police have tweaked their goals this year. They’re using techniques like data analysis and surveillance to lock up violent criminals faster, sometimes just days or hours after crimes happen. They’re also making a concentrated effort to get illegal guns off the streets.

And they’re targeting people who’ve shot into buildings and cars, or those who point guns at people – crimes that are sometimes just a breath away from being homicides.

“We say here’s the list of all the outstanding warrants for people or here’s the latest address where we’ve had a shooting into an occupied dwelling,” said Maj. Jeff Estes, who is in charge of three divisions in the southwest service area. “These are the addresses that we’ll focus on for potential retaliation.”

Estes wants his officers to try to prevent crimes before they happen. “They’re not security guards. ... I don’t put anybody out there just to stand there.”

Lieutenants like Jackson crunch the numbers at the beginning of a shift and set priorities. And officers have the authority to move across division lines to pursue criminals in large teams.

Judy Williams, the founder of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, lives along West Boulevard, one of the areas where officers have intensified their efforts. She said she’s noticed a decline in homicides and hasn’t had to plan a memorial for a murder victim in weeks.

“It’s been almost two weeks with no homicides,” she said. “I would like to think that something they’re doing is working.”

Police say it’s too soon to know the long-term effect the initiative will have on crime, but Jackson said it has contributed to a decline in crime this year.

On Friday, police announced that overall crime in Charlotte was down 3.2 percent. Property crime dropped 2.7 percent, violent crime was down 6.5 percent, including a 4.7 percent decrease in homicides.

Curbing payday crimes

The paths between the check-cashing businesses on Albemarle Road and the apartments off Farm Pond Lane have been prime spots for criminals for years.

They routinely strike on Friday nights – payday – sticking guns in the faces of apartment dwellers headed home with a pocket full of cash.

Police believe it was about to happen a week ago, when they got a call about suspicious people hanging around a nearby business.

Watching from an unmarked police car across the street, Sgt. Henry Rozell saw three jittery men crouched in the mulch on the side of the check-cashing business.

One man passed a hooded sweatshirt to another, suspicious activity on a night when the temperature was 75 degrees. The man cinched the hoodie around his face, then peeked around the corner into the check-cashing business to see who was inside.

Seeing it empty, he motioned to the other two men, who strode toward the front door.

That’s when Rozell got on his radio.

“That was definitely a robbery about to happen,” Rozell recounted on Thursday. “That’s the kind of thing we’re looking for.”

Moments later, several police cars pulled into the parking lot, their lights flashing. One of the suspects ran away, throwing a gun into the woods as he ran. He was a felon, and he was charged with illegally possessing a firearm.

Rozell said he wouldn’t have been doing surveillance if he wasn’t involved in the initiative. An officer would have responded to the suspicious person call, but if he found nothing, he would have been dispatched somewhere else.

Catching suspects quickly

Investigators say officers involved in the initiative arrested two men they believe committed four robberies in a two-hour period on Thursday night.

Police say the men – 24-year-old Jakiel Cunningham and 23-year old Dominique Moffett – were involved in crimes that crossed into three police divisions. The pair pistol-whipped a man on Sharon Road West and later robbed two people on New Bern Street before firing a shot into a victim’s vehicle, police said. Both were charged with four counts of robbery and three counts of conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Moffett was also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon.

Officers involved in the summer initiative were the ones who ultimately located the vehicle, Jackson said.

“The Hickory Grove (police division) robbery was the last one. As we were looking for our suspect, we were able to piece it together that the vehicle had ties to those other robberies,” Jackson said. “We just connected the dots.”

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