Charlotte’s City Council meets this week for an out-of-town retreat to discuss in-depth their five established “focus areas.” Many issues will sidetrack our city leaders this year, but we must focus most on reducing crime.
The city spends the vast majority of our taxpayer dollars on keeping our citizens safe; it’s ironic that this is the subject least discussed at these retreats. The alarming 2015 double-digit increases in crime activity make it imperative that the mayor and City Council proactively work with City Manager Ron Carlee and Police Chief Kerr Putney to fight and prevent crime like we’ve not done before. Here are a few ideas worth consideration:
▪ Frederick Douglass once said, “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Do we view our at-risk youth as liabilities to manage, or assets to develop? If we agree it should be the latter, then we need a comprehensive community strategy for youth. Now that federal funding of the gang prevention program, Gang of One, no longer exists, CMPD’s Youth Engagement Unit deserves additional funding, not less. A collaborative government initiative between city, county and our school board is needed to bring together existing programs and to expand opportunities for our at-risk youth.
▪ In the early ’90s when gang violence spiked in Boston, local ministers collaborated with social service agencies and police to reduce violence in the inner city. The collaboration become known as the 10 Point Coalition. It called upon churches to implement any or all of the proposals to reduce crime and provide guidance to at-risk youths. We must build upon the success of the recently formed “Cops & Barbers” program and continue to encourage spiritual leaders to form a Boston-like faith community coalition.
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▪ The police “ride along” is City Council members’ all-purpose tool to expose them to the challenges we face in communities with crime, traffic, housing, homelessness and code enforcement. It’s also the best way for our leaders to truly understand the sensitive and very volatile situations officers find themselves in every day. The mayor and City Council would be well-served to also engage neighborhood leaders in this grass roots activity as they form plans to improve community safety.
▪ We have “area plans” for land use across our entire city. But we don’t have area crime plans. With CMPD and neighborhood leaders, consider developing and adopting crime plans for Districts 1-7. What better way to tackle a large, growing problem than to break it down into smaller, area specific plans? Elected officials (at all levels) can come together with neighborhood leaders to engage with CMPD to better allocate our limited resources in order to achieve better results.
▪ For eight years, the mayor and City Council, by default, have allowed the Community Safety Committee’s agenda to be consumed by subjects like predatory towing, mobile food vendors rules, bow hunting, passenger vehicle for hire regulations, and revisions to our noise ordinance. While these are certainly important, they should not take precedence over serious initiatives to fight and prevent crime. The City Council and mayor should refer more substantive topics to this committee that focus on combating crime and initiatives to make our neighborhoods safer.
If citizens don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods, nothing else our leaders do will matter. We stand to make the biggest improvements expanding economic opportunity for all when we come together to reduce crime through community involvement.
Edwin Peacock served on the Community Safety Committee for the City Council from 2007 to 2011.