Public Safety

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief gives insights on rise in crime

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chief Kerr Putney speaks to City Council about crime fighting strategies on Nov. 9, 2015.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chief Kerr Putney speaks to City Council about crime fighting strategies on Nov. 9, 2015. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Crime in Charlotte has been rising steadily this year. This week, the police chief gave us some insight about why.

The council billed Monday’s dinner meeting featuring Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney as a chance to learn more about the department’s crime fighting strategy.

Putney made a case for requesting more officers. But the chief made some of his most comprehensive public statements on why he believes crime is spiking.

In the third quarter of 2015, crime was up nearly 11 percent compared with the first nine months of 2014. Violent crime was up 17.6 percent. Homicides are up nearly 50 percent.

Here are some of Putney’s explanations about why police believe crime is going up, with some analysis from Paul Friday, a retired criminologist from UNC Charlotte who has worked with the department in the past.

▪ Not enough police officers.

Putney said the population of Charlotte-Mecklenburg has increased by 8.2 percent since 2008 — the last time CMPD expanded the number of officers. There were 828,519 people in 2015, and commuters swell the daytime population to 994,223. The Charlotte region is estimated to grow to 932,839 people by 2020.

Crime decreased the last time the department added officers to its ranks, Putney said, but has ticked up as the city’s growth has outpaced the department’s.

Friday said an increase in police officers could help drive down crime, but only if officers are deployed in the right way.

“It’s not that we need (more officers) to kick butt and put people in jail, what we need them to do is help get the cooperation back from the community that may have been lost and deal with the root issues,” Friday said.

▪ People in the most crime prone areas don’t trust the police.

Police killings in New York, Ferguson, Missouri, and in North Charleston have sparked a national conversation about whether officers are too quick to use deadly force, especially against minorities.

“Right now we're entering the post-Ferguson era,” Putney said. “There’s an increased public scrutiny around everything we do.”

The distrust can make people less likely to cooperate with police investigations, Friday said.

“I think he's probably right in terms of the attitude, especially in minority areas, where there's a greater distrust of police,” Friday said. “(Police) are not solving the crime as quickly as they used to, so the people who are committing the crimes are able to commit more crimes.”

▪ Factors outside of the police department’s control.

Putney said that there are factors driving up crime that are out of the department’s control.

As we reported earlier this year, violent crime is going up pretty much everywhere.

“I wish it was just as simple as a sound bite that I can give you,” Putney replied. “Economics plays a part. Education plays a part. The mood of the country plays a part.”

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