Problems and Solutions
From September 2007
Four issues ago, we launched this series, called "Charlotte's Crime Problem."
Everyone we knew talked about crime. Charlotte ranked eighth on the list of "most dangerous large cities." Our overall crime rates landed us solidly in the bottom third of similar-size cities. And with the city's astounding growth, the problem is bound to get worse. But, outside of the crime-of-the-day reporting by the daily media, no one in town was inspecting the issue. So we decided to do so. We broke down the issue into four critical parts, and then writer Melissa Hankins got to work. Here's what we learned, and here's what we can do about it:
Charlotte's Problem With Crime
Problem: No one in the leadership arena is taking responsibility for the situation. Local politicians blame the state government for not providing enough funding. The DA's office does, too, and it also says the police could do a better job. The police department says the court system is an issue, but it also thinks it's doing a pretty darned good job.
What to do about it: This one's easy. Our top officials need to step up, admit the problem, and work together on it. This year's mayoral race is a perfect opportunity for someone to do so. All three mayoral candidates (Pat McCrory, Ken Gjertsen, and Beverly Earle) have mentioned crime as top issues. But the key is taking responsibility for the issue and holding others, such as the police chief and the district attorney, accountable.
Problem: Local gangs with loose national affiliations are established in our city and in our schools.
What to do about it: Local state reps had sponsored a state bill that included tougher gang legislation, including making it illegal to be in a gang. There are certainly some important civil-liberty issues that need to be settled in any legislation like that (who determines what a gang is, for one), but our officers need better tools with which to do their jobs. Second, CMS needs to take gangs seriously. The CMS official we interviewed laughed at the idea of gangs being a problem in our schools, despite CMPD's insistence that not only are gangs established in schools, they are recruiting there. Other than a few programs run by resource officers, there is no major gang-education program in the school system, on the level of, say, a DARE. There needs to be.
Cops and Robbers
Problem: There's a serious disconnect inside the CMPD. Police Chief Darrel Stephens practices a form of community policing called Problem-Oriented Policing. Designed to attack crime at its root social causes, instead of simply rounding up the bad guys and tossing them into jail, the method is theoretically very sound and in practice at dozens of forces across the country. The problem, according to experts we talked with, is that CMPD does not recruit specific types of people well suited for this modern style of policing, and it does not appear to be adequately training cops to practice the method.
What to do about it: One, Stephens and his team need to do a better job educating the public as to how they're doing their jobs, and why. Two, CMPD needs to alter its recruiting practices. The stereotypical no-nonsense cop may not be the best fit for POP policing. Three, CMPD needs to do a better job training its cops for POP. The two “community coordinators”—cops who work full time on POP issues—we interviewed for our story had been on the job for six months and had received no POP-specific training.
And Justice for Few
Problem: Charlotte's court system is overwhelmed.
What to Do About It: Getting more money from the state is one step. According to the new budget, we'll get a sliver of what we need this year. McCrory and Gilchrist are still crying poor, but at least the state legislature has acknowledged the problem (and the problem is really statewide). Now it's up to local leaders to use what we get effectively, so maybe we'll get more later.