Speaking at a meeting of Charlotte civic and business leaders on Wednesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Chief Kerr Putney had ample opportunity to make a very public case for why he needs more officers – but he opted not to.
Putney made remarks at the monthly luncheon of the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club, a collection of 300 business and civic leaders. About 40 were crammed into a room at the Palm restaurant in SouthPark, eating fish and listening to Putney for a half hour.
But even when asked why he wants more officers, Putney’s comments about the requested increase were minimal:
“People want us to fight crime, and we do it, and when we’re staffed appropriately, we’ll do it better than even you might realize,” he said, before moving onto the next topic.
Putney has described himself as an introvert, but he says he’s more than capable of getting his point across to members of the department and to the public. As the public learns about why, exactly, Putney thinks he needs more officers, we’re also learning a bit about his leadership style.
The stakes were clear Wednesday. The speech came as Charlotte City Council is mulling Putney’s request for as many as 125 new officers and 80 civilian employees. The request could cost up to $16.7 million for the upcoming fiscal year. That means city residents might have to swallow a property tax hike, or a reduction in funding for other city services.
I walked Putney to his SUV after the luncheon and asked why he didn’t use the opportunity to lay out a very public case for increasing the number of officers.
“I’m going to let council do their work,” he told me. “I’ve already presented to council, they know where I stand, and like I told them, we can’t do more with less. I’m not going to beat anybody over the head with it. The need is there. I think I’ve demonstrated that to council. I’m going to let them decide from there.”
Putney first broached the idea of a larger police force at a City Council dinner meeting in November. He said the city’s growth is outpacing the department’s. CMPD hasn’t increased the number of officers in nearly a decade. CMPD, which has 1,840 officers, hasn’t added staff since 2008.
Perhaps buoying his point, last year CMPD reported a 10 percent increase in crime, including an 18.2 percent jump in violent crime.
Putney has declined to talk at length to the media about the request for more officers – although we did spend a few minutes on the topic during a New Year’s Eve interview. An Observer analysis from earlier this year shows CMPD has more officers per capita than all but one of the cities to which it compares itself. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics shows CMPD’s 2.27 officers per 1,000 people puts it right at the average for U.S. cities of similar size.
It’s unclear when City Council will decide whether to approve Putney’s request for more officers.