Kerr Putney (Photo: QCity Metro)

Former CMPD Chief Kerr Putney begins his first full day of retirement today. But before he officially gave way to Johnny Jennings, Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s new top cop, Putney sat with QCity Metro to reflect on his 28 years with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, including his last five as its leader.

Putney talked about:

His legacy as chief

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s how we’ve connected with young people and how we need to continue to do that work. I had the misfortune of not knowing any cops when I was growing up and having a strong dislike for them. I want to see us continue to work on [those connections] while they’re young so that they have those relationships that I didn’t get to have as a child.”

What he would do over

“There are quite a few do-overs, but the main do-over would be getting…a lot more hands-on learning about what this job really entails. It would have had me more prepared for what I was going to encounter… It’s been learned trial-by-fire for the most part.”

His biggest surprise

“I think connecting with the community — when they get to talk to you on a personal, human level, how huge and vast the social capital is here in Charlotte. I just hope we don’t waste that with the opportunity that confronts us right now.”

His biggest disappointment

“Most disappointing is how surprised people are that we’re willing to give the time and attention to young Black kids in particular, and also Latinos. Some of the parents were even shocked, because they have the same stereotype that I had, that cops want nothing to do with people of color. I was taken aback at how willing our officers can be. And I think that’s probably the big surprise and the biggest inspiration — our willingness to do it and the community’s surprise that we’re so willing to do so.”

His advice to the new chief

“Don’t give advice. I just give perspective, make a few recommendations, and he’s been getting those ever since we’ve been working together for the last three decades. Right now, the only thing I tell him is…be true to who you are. You can only improve and help others if you know who you are and know what you stand for and don’t sacrifice that. Other than that, I think he’s okay. I think he’s got all he needs to move us forward as a city and as a CMPD organization.”

How the two men are different

“Ask him that. I don’t know. I don’t pay attention. I’m focused on the work. I think he has a gentle side that you’ll see more of than I really probably have. But again, I think that’s a question for him and for you to determine, quite frankly.”

Advice to the city

“Don’t miss this opportunity. If you’re serious about true, substantive reform, let’s be about that work.”

How he would “defund the police”

“I would make sure that we prioritize education for young, Black and Latino kids who are most at risk. I would be more intentional about prioritizing funding for job opportunities. I would be serious about career pathways for those young people, and I’d also bring them in connection with cops at a younger age so that they can start building that trust that can pay dividends down the road. Those are areas that I would like to see our city focus in more intently.”

Whether he’d give up CMPD money for other priorities?

“Well, I don’t think it’s either-or, because social services is a county-funded enterprise. So, why would I give city money when county is responsible for it? Also, doing police work is expensive. I’ve never been over budget, but we use our money very effectively here because it’s taxpayer money.”

More on police reform

“I was told by a former sheriff that his frustration was that the only opportunity to help people get off chemical dependency was having them arrested and put in jail. That, to me, is a failure, and it’s bigger than the police. So, things like that are what resonate with me. If we’re talking about responsible reform, let’s be intentional about it, because you should have more resources to get you off that chemical dependency than committing a crime and going to jail.”

His plans in retirement

“I want businesses and individuals who care about [young people], who say they do, to invest in it, and I’ll help them and show them how. I’m going to show them in whom and where to invest money if they want to make a difference. I know quite a lot of these nonprofits who are doing the work. They’re getting the outcomes that resonate with me. That’s what I’m doing.”

Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.

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  1. Really excited to see what former Police Chief Putney is going to do with his knowledge and experience. Looking forward to the process. #purpose