Politics & Government

Police question Charlotte City Council support as officers hurt by ‘Ferguson effect’

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers stand as members of the Fraternal Order of Police criticize City Council and Mayor Jennifer Roberts for what they said is a lack of support.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officers stand as members of the Fraternal Order of Police criticize City Council and Mayor Jennifer Roberts for what they said is a lack of support. sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte Fraternal Order of Police criticized City Council Monday for not increasing their pay enough to retain officers, and one officer said the city is dealing with the so-called “Ferguson effect,” in which officers struggle to fight crime for fear of being second-guessed.

The past year has been difficult for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

In September, a CMPD officer shot and killed Keith Scott in an apartment complex parking lot. The shooting sparked two nights of protests and riots near the shooting site and in uptown.

In 2017, the city has been plagued by a sharp increase in homicides.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts and City Council members have pointed to new money in the budget to hire 125 new officers over a two-year period.

But the FOP Lodge #9 said the city needs to do more.

CMPD officer Travis Cook, an FOP member, said “this unrest is causing the Ferguson effect.”

“Officers feel they have no support from the City Council,” he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Cook pointed to a council meeting in September when people upset over the Scott shooting cursed and shouted at Roberts and council members for more than two hours. He said he felt council members didn’t stand up for them. During that meeting, council member Ed Driggs did defend CMPD Chief Kerr Putney and officers, but he was shouted down and booed by people in the chamber.

The Ferguson effect refers to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014.

FBI Director James Comey and others have argued that police are worried about being recorded on cellphone video doing their jobs and then being second-guessed. As a result, some officers have become less aggressive in how they do their jobs, according to the theory, which has been questioned by some as not being supported by evidence.

FOP President Mark Michalec said after the meeting that he believes some officers are worried about whether they will be second-guessed.

“You want to do your job,” he said. “But there are officers who keep beating their head against the wall (about not having support).”

During budget negotiations, it’s rare for CMPD to publicly lobby for higher pay and more support. Those discussions usually happen behind closed doors.

Cook said the city is touting an increase in officers, but he said it’s barely enough to keep up with people leaving. Cook said CMPD has recently lost 159 officers and has hired 160 new officers.

“That’s a net gain of one,” he said.

Michalec said officers are leaving CMPD for other departments with higher pay – or to work in the private sector.

In January 2016, Putney asked council members for more money to increase the base pay of his officers. Then city manager Ron Carlee and council members gave CMPD more money to hire officers, but the pay plan wasn’t changed.

This year’s pay plan for public safety employees includes a 2 percent market-rate adjustment and a step increase of 5 percent for young officers and 2.5 percent for more senior officers.

Regular city employees have a 3 percent raise pool this year.

The pay plan for police and firefighters used to be more generous. But the city reduced the size of the step increases in 2011 to make the plan “more sustainable.”

Officers said planned step increases have been frozen in the past.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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