Politics & Government

With murders surging, Joel Ford is making crime a focus of his mayoral campaign

Police investigate a double homicide earlier this month at 7519 Glencannon Drive. There have been 27 homicides in Charlotte in 2017.
Police investigate a double homicide earlier this month at 7519 Glencannon Drive. There have been 27 homicides in Charlotte in 2017. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

As homicides surge in Charlotte, State Sen. Joel Ford said Thursday he would make crime fighting a priority if elected mayor and would hire an additional 100 officers over what the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has requested.

Ford is running against Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles in the Democratic primary, which is in September.

Besides hiring additional officers, Ford said he would conduct a salary review of police officers, firefighters and other first responders to ensure Charlotte is competitive with other cities. He also said he would hire additional support personnel so officers would be freed from doing routine paperwork and would look to install more cameras to help police.

Ford said he is making law enforcement a priority in part because of the Keith Scott protests and riots last fall. He said Roberts and Lyles didn’t show strong leadership during and after the protests.

“We had looting and burning, and a young man lost his life,” Ford said. “And most recently, the crime, the killing that occurred along Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle. We had a 38-year-old man who was shot in the back, and the shooter shot him four more times in broad daylight. What kind of environment have we created where this is OK?”

So far this year there have been 27 homicides in Charlotte, including two on Wednesday.

With their deaths, Charlotte is now on pace to top 100 homicides in 2017. Last year, 67 people were victims of homicides – the highest number since 2008, police data show.

Roberts’ campaign manager, Sam Spencer, said the city is already working on almost all of what Ford has requested.

“The mayor has been working on public safety since day one,” Spencer said. “She has put more police on the street, bought body cameras, invested in community policing and hired a more diverse police force. She has been working for weeks to do this in a deliberate and comprehensive way.”

Ford also said the city didn’t act fast enough after the Scott shooting to keep law and order. He said the city should have brought in the National Guard earlier and should have enacted a curfew sooner.

Scott was shot and killed by police on the afternoon of Sept. 20. That night there were riots near the apartment complex where he was shot.

On the morning of Sept. 21, then-governor Pat McCrory offered the city the National Guard, which would have been available to the city once it declared a state of emergency. The city declined to make the declaration until later that night, after riots broke out uptown and one protester was shot and killed and several police officers were injured.

Roberts has said the decision to issue a state of emergency was a collaborative decision made by herself, Police Chief Kerr Putney and then city manager Ron Kimble. Last fall she said the city struck “the right balance” between a heavy law enforcement presence and allowing people the freedom to protest.

“As a result of ineffective leadership, those errors contributed to the situation we saw play out on national television,” Ford said.

Ford said City Council has been undermined in the last few months by protesters who have often shouted them down during meetings. Black Lives Matter and Scott protesters shouted down and cursed council members last fall. Advocates for undocumented workers also screamed at council members earlier this year, and one anti-abortion opponent also went on a tirade against Roberts and council members last month.

Since then, the city has enacted tougher rules about maintaining decorum during public meetings.

In the aftermath of the Scott protests, Lyles encouraged council members to issue a “Letter to the Community” that focuses on building affordable housing, creating jobs and making law enforcement fair and accountable.

Roberts is most closely identified with being a staunch defender of LGBT rights. She blasted the legislature’s decision last week to repeal House Bill 2 with new legislation that prohibits cities and towns from passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances for at least three years.

Like Lyles, she has also said building more affordable housing is a priority.

Roberts and Lyles have also supported hiring more police officers.

They approved a budget last year that included hiring 63 new officers. Putney said he will likely ask for another 62 officers for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July.

In early 2015, Putney also said he wanted a significant pay increase for his officers to keep them from leaving. CMPD and other public safety employees received raises last year, but there wasn’t a pay increase of the size that Putney suggested.

Ford said it makes no sense for other cities and law enforcement agencies to “poach” CMPD officers by offering higher pay.

City Council member Kenny Smith is so far the only Republican in the race. In his campaign kickoff speech, Smith said it’s important that the mayor “supports CMPD,” a reference to an op-ed piece Roberts wrote a week after the Scott shooting. In the op-ed, Roberts said the city needed to be more transparent and release body camera and dash camera footage sooner.

Smith said Thursday that the city is already working to hire more officers, as well as support staff. He said the city hired 20 support personnel last year and may hire another 20 support staff this year.

Smith said the city also needs infrastructure, such as expanded and new division headquarters.

“It’s as much about facilities as about additional manpower,” Smith said. The chief’s top priority is infrastructure so we can better distribute them throughout the city and decrease response times.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs