Although police take a lot of heat for crime upticks, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney, City Council members and other city leaders have said making crime go down is more than just a police problem.
On Wednesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police reported that crime was up 9.9 percent. Property crime increased 8.6 percent from a year before; violent crime jumped 18.2 percent.
This week, Putney is explaining to City Council why increasing the number of CMPD officers will bring down crime in the short term. But he and other community members are also thinking about ways to get at the root causes of crime.
I was talking about some of those causes with city leaders as I reported on the story that recapped homicides in 2015. One consistent theme came up over and over again: giving at-risk youths a chance to better themselves.
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A lot of people had ideas about how to do that, but the National Urban League of Central Carolinas has developed a program they say is finding success.
The Urban League’s head, Patrick Graham, said his organization has teamed with CMPD and the court system to provide mentoring and job training to youths who’ve committed crimes.
For some youths that means their charges can be dropped if they complete the full program, Graham said. And the job training puts them in a career path – in this case, installing fiber optic cable – that gives them a viable alternative to committing crimes.
The clean slate aspect of the program is especially important for youths in North Carolina. The state is one of two in the U.S. that charges 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for crimes. That means a crime that someone commits before he’s old enough to vote or buy cigarettes can follow him around for the rest of his life. Criminologists say such crimes make it harder for a person to get a job, an apartment or financial aid for college. It also makes it more likely that a person will commit crimes in the future.
Across the state, 1,400 people have gone through the program, which also offers job training to people who haven’t committed crimes.
“We’re the largest provider of certified fiber technicians in the state,” he said. “Thirty percent of those salaries were earned by adjudicated individuals, people that were formerly in the criminal-justice system.”
Graham said the program also exposes youths to careers, people and life circumstances that they might not otherwise come into contact with.
“There’s no exposure for many of these young people beyond the isolated communities in which they live, that don’t always give them the visible signs of hope,” Graham said. “We’re going to have to invest more in those groups in terms of education, entrepreneurship and also mentoring and job skills.”