Monroe: Police department moves are paying off

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe says last year's lower crime rate can be traced, in part, to changes he initiated

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chief Rodney Monroe said it was “not by chance” that crime in Charlotte fell last year in most major categories.

After starting 2008 with double-digit gains, crime rates plunged in the second half in most of the departments’ 13 districts. Speaking to a group of residents Thursday night in south Charlotte, Monroe credited better policing and increased citizen involvement.

He again called on prosecutors and judges to reduce the number of plea bargains that allow criminals — especially repeat offenders — to walk free or receive reduced sentences. Of the thousands of cases that enter the courts each year, he said, it’s rare to see one actually go to trial.

“We have to do something to hold chronic offenders accountable for what they do to us everyday,” he told the group. “People have to be fearful of the criminal justice system in Mecklenburg County.

"I know plea bargaining is an important part of the criminal justice system, but it shouldn’t be the norm,” he said.

Monroe said his comments were not meant to be a veiled attack on Mecklenburg County District Attorney Peter Gilchrist.

Since arriving in Charlotte in June 2008, Monroe has taken officers once assigned to desk jobs and put them back into communities. This has made the department more visible, which has helped deter crime, he said.

Monroe received praise as police chief in Richmond, Va., for creating a special homicide unit. The city’s murder rate later dropped 33 percent to a 26 year low.

Monroe on Thursday promised no quick solutions to Charlotte’s rising homicide rate, which rose 10.7 percent last year. He called it one of the toughest categories of crime to prevent.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police investigated 83 homicides in 2008.

Some of the areas Monroe said he’s now focused on include:

Chronic Offenders:
Too many of the county’s 8,000 criminals on probation or parol are unknown to police, Monroe said. Without this knowledge, he said, officers often are unaware when they come upon crimes that could send individuals back to jail for parole or probation violations.

“We need to know who they are. We need to know where they are, and we need to know the condition of their release,” he said.

Monroe said his department is seeking better communication with other parts of the criminal justice system.

Gangs
The Charlotte area has about 151 gangs totaling 3,000 members, Monroe said, so the department will be more forthright when it encounters crimes police suspect are gang related. Police in the past have been reluctant to publicly identify suspected gang activity, he said.

“I know when we have shootings around certain clubs, it’s gang activity,” Monroe told the group.

Juvenile Offenders
Because of privacy concerns, he said, police often can’t get needed information on juveniles who are committing crimes. He said he wants to work with other agencies to find solutions.

He said police are working in high-crime communities to provide neighborhood-specific training and programs for troubled youths. He said he wants to make juveniles who commit crimes more accountable to the communities where they live.

Staffing
Monroe said he simply needs more officers. In the north and south districts, he said, police are stretched thin because the districts are too large. He wants to divide the two districts to create four. That would mean more tax dollars.

“A police department needs to make a statement that we are here in the community,” he said. “Visibility not only reduces crime but also the fear of crime. We want you to see officers.

“Do I think there is a blank checkbook waiting for me somewhere? No,” he said.”

Monroe called on residents to get involve when they see suspicious activity.

“Don’t close your doors, don’t close your windows, and definitely don’t close your eyes to what’s going on in your neighborhood,” he said.

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