Opinion

A stronger front-line response to crime

Most residents of Charlotte-Mecklenburg don't care about the fine points of organizing a police department. They care about whether police officers respond quickly when lives and property are threatened, and when crime surges.

Expect, then, a round of applause for the sweeping reorganization Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe has announced. It boosts the number of patrol officers significantly. It also puts a larger number of seasoned officers on street-level patrols and makes local commanders accountable for crime numbers.

Those are sound steps, ones that needed to be taken in a city where both violent and property crime has surged. A new chief has come up with them in less than 60 days, and that's to his credit. Yet the follow-up will be just as important as the initial plan. This sort of shake-up will not be effective if it's set in stone. The chief must be ready to make ongoing adjustments in the police force's structure based on what's working and what's not.

Next month CMPD will begin its most significant overhaul in a decade aimed at beefing up the city's front-line response to lawbreaking. Some 90 officers from specialty units will go back to patrol. Meanwhile, the gang unit will grow to a dozen officers and new commanders in the 39 police response areas will have direct, 24/7 responsibility for their territory.

The reason for this shake-up: A widespread spurt in crime – some of it quite frightening – has made many people afraid. In the first five months of this year, violent crime rose 8.4 percent over the same period last year, and property crime increased 9.7 percent. Among the most alarming numbers: a 27.3 percent spike in thefts from autos and a number of violent, high-profile armed robberies.

What's at stake? People do not want to live in, work or visit a place where they do not feel safe. Charlotte must respond swiftly to this rise in lawbreaking before it reaches the tipping point. Putting more cops on the street and improving street-level response is a must.

There's another factor that must be dealt with, too. City Council did not budget for enough new officers as Charlotte-Mecklenburg's population expanded rapidly and the complexity of law enforcement grew. That needs to change.

Job No. 2 for Chief Monroe: Devise a plan for funding law enforcement that's realistic and ties an increase in police officers directly to growth – then convince City Council to support it.

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