Politics & Government

Charlotte repeals crowd-control rule as threat shifts from bottle-throwing to terrorism

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police in riot gear guard an entrance area at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, September 25, 2016. The game was declared an Extraordinary Event by the city. The Extraordinary Events ordinance was repealed Monday by City Council.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police in riot gear guard an entrance area at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, September 25, 2016. The game was declared an Extraordinary Event by the city. The Extraordinary Events ordinance was repealed Monday by City Council. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte City Council on Monday repealed a controversial crowd-control ordinance, which was passed before the Democratic National Convention in 2012, after Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney and city staff agreed the ordinance is no longer necessary.

Putney told City Council that his officers need to worry about terrorism – not about anarchists throwing bottles, the original fear that prompted the ordinance.

The Extraordinary Events ordinance prohibited a long list of items at large events the city declared “extraordinary.” The banned items included bottles, chains, rocks, spray paint, knives and other weapons. It also prohibited people from concealing those items in backpacks.

The ordinance was rarely enforced by police, though the city manager declared more and more gatherings, parades and uptown games “Extraordinary Events,” including Carolina Panthers football games, last year’s gay pride parade and the Fourth of July fireworks show.

The ordinance was invoked with increasing frequency. In 2012, it was used six times. That increased to 14 events in 2016.

“Everything became an extraordinary event,” Putney said. “Therefore, nothing was extraordinary.”

At a forum on the ordinance earlier this month, Putney said he isn’t concerned today about the type of threat the city prepared for before the DNC.

His main concern, he said, is the type of terrorist attack that has occurred recently in Europe, where vehicles have been used as weapons and people have been killed by guns or bombs.

While the ordinance was repealed, CMPD will work with event organizers on an event-by-event basis to craft security plans.

Putney has said the police may consider changing how people enter large events uptown. It’s possible that the police may establish specific ways in and out of an event, so police can scrutinize – and possibly search – people entering an event.

But that could bring a new set of complications.

When would an event be required to set up fencing and have security checkpoints? Would CMPD merely scan people entering or would they search all purses and backpacks? And would a long line of people waiting to be screened or searched created a target for terrorists?

Council member Julie Eiselt, who chairs the public safety committee, said council members will review any new requirements for events.

“There has been talk about having more controlled access,” Eiselt said. “We are open to it given the change in terrorist tactics.”

In the short term, Eiselt said, the repeal of the ordinance is “an opportunity to build trust” with the community. Activists have long criticized the city for the ordinance, which they view as excessive and counterproductive.

“We really don’t need to be using it,” she said. “The real focus these days is on finding terrorism. … That’s a challenge, but one that’s not really being addressed by this ordinance.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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