Public Safety

Work remains in fight on crime

This summer, the Charlotte City Council came up with a list of things that would help make Charlotte one of the safest communities in America.

But nearly six months after setting goals about lowering the crime rate and equipping the police department with the latest technology, the city is struggling to meet some of the goals of the Community Safety Committee’s 2016 Strategic Focus Area Plan.

The city posted the entire strategic plan on its website, but I’ve highlighted three areas that have gotten a lot of attention lately to assess how the city is doing.

▪ Reduce crime. The city wanted to reduce the crime rate (the number of crimes per 100,000 people). The crime rate is going in the opposite direction, and the city has seen its first sustained increase in crime since 2009.

Overall, crime is up by 10.6 percent through the end of the third quarter, police said. Crime is up in every crime category. Violent crime is up by 17.6 percent, according to the police department. Rapes are up more than 17 percent; shootings are up 31 percent. Even bike thefts are up 4.5 percent.

The jumps in crime are part of a national trend of crime increases, but police and some city leaders have argued Charlotte needs more police officers.

“I need on the street tomorrow 90 policemen,” said Claire Fallon, who heads the council’s community safety committee.

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said the city needs additional police officers, although he hasn’t given an official number to City Council. The city’s population has increased 8 percent since the last time the department increased the total number of officers. Any increase in officers is probably going to result in a tax hike.

▪ Hire a diverse work force. Police have long said that one way to make interactions between police and civilians less contentious is to make the department more reflective of the city’s population. This might be one of the hardest things for public safety officials to accomplish. The city of Charlotte is about 35 percent black, according to the census, and the police department is about 18 percent black.

And the policing profession has taken a hit in Charlotte and across the country after high-profile shootings of minorities by officers.

Putney summed up why it’s hard to hire a more diverse police force when he told City Council he needed more officers last month: “People are less likely to jump into a profession where they see themselves as being unsupported and, in some cases, vilified.”

▪ Improve police technology. The department has pushed in the last few years to equip its officers with the latest technology, and the department made big investments before the Democratic National Convention – the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system, an improved network of surveillance cameras and license plate readers.

The technological improvements have continued this year after all CMPD patrol officers were equipped with body-worn cameras.

And even though police believed the body cameras would replace the aging dashboard cameras, police are working on a plan to keep those cameras as well.

“It’s amazing what we can find the money for when a lot of people make noise,” Fallon said.