In a recent budget workshop that weighed police Chief Kerr Putney’s request to increase the size of the police force, Charlotte City Council members anticipated they could add 63 officers to the department – fewer than half the number the police department says it needs.
But as crime continues to increase, city leaders wonder if that number will be enough.
As police have pointed out, the total number of officers added to the department can be deceptive. The numbers City Council has thrown out would amount to one or two more officers per shift, per division, said Councilwoman Julie Eiselt, the chair of the council’s community safety committee.
“For me, it’s like having four flat tires on your car and only pumping up one,” Eiselt said. “We’re worried about the ability of the police to patrol a growing city and that we’re not keeping up with the growth. … On a per capita basis, we have less coverage.”
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But that number is further diluted when officers go on vacation or call out sick, or when they’re needed to help secure one of the city’s increasingly frequent large-scale events.
Amid the wrangling about how many officers the city can afford to add, the city is seeing a sustained uptick in crime.
Police announced increases in almost every major crime category when they reported statistics for the first quarter of this year. But the most worrisome numbers were tucked in the bottom part of a sheet police handed out to the media at the latest crime statistics briefing:
“CMPD ended March, 2016, 17.3% above the 3 year average in Index Offenses. Property crime exceeded the three year average by 15.7% while violent crime exceeded it by 26.7%.”
Crime increasing in Charlotte has been a constant refrain for the last year. But police have always directed the public to three-year averages, which the department says gives a longitudinal and more accurate overview of crime in the city. It’s also served the purpose of blunting some concerns over short-term jumps in crime.
But when compared to the three-year average, the most serious assaults were up 35.9 percent, vehicle thefts increased 41.3 percent and robberies increased 13.1 percent.
Eiselt said the numbers are more worrisome because people could stay away from the large-scale infrastructure projects under construction if Charlotteans feel the department can’t keep them safe.
Eiselt pointed out two: the opening of another leg of the Lynx light-rail Blue Line extension and a greenway expansion that will stretch from Cabarrus County to the South Carolina border.
She said police recently responded to a sexual assault on the McAlpine Creek greenway that worried people who frequent it.
“If you know there are officers on bikes on the greenway or if you know there’s an officer on the (light-rail) cars every once in a while, it does deter crime,” she said.