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Ganged up

Monroe may be the man to address crime woes

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You go, Rodney Monroe.

In the last week, the new Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police chief has rattled his saber more than former chief Darrel Stephens did during his entire tenure.

Brothers Terry Long, 18, and Joshua Davis, 17, wouldn't be dead if their killer, Montrez Williams, 17, hadn't gotten a mere 75 days for the armed robbery he committed last year in yet another one of the sweetheart plea deals the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's office cranks out by the dozens each week. Regular readers of this column know that the DA's office treats armed robbery as a kind of aggravated shoplifting, and Long and Davis paid the ultimate price for that, as have many before them.

Last week, Monroe took the radical step of actually questioning what the hell the district attorney's office was thinking when it cut Williams loose, in the process leaving District Attorney Peter Gilchrist sputtering.It's about time someone besides me asked that question. If Monroe asks it publicly every time someone is killed by a thug who has gotten a sweetheart plea deal for a violent felony from the DA's office, he'll be asking it every week. And that would do more to change the culture at the DA's office, and to protect Charlotteans, than just about any other single thing Monroe could do.

But there's more. Stephens once insisted there was no gang problem in Charlotte, then, when it became apparent that there was, he attempted to paint gang activity as more of a youthful fashion statement that had to be addressed through feel-good programs. Meanwhile, as we learned over the last few weeks, hard-core organized crime was flourishing here. As international caliber MS-13 gang members entrenched themselves, the department's gang resources remained puny by comparison.

Monroe took a U-turn on that last week as well when he acknowledged that Charlotte has a gang problem -- ya think? -- and promised to beef up the department's response. For a department that just three months ago had a public relations strategy centered around a central theme of denial, this is a refreshingly radical turnaround. And with international MS-13 bosses now targeting Charlotte for expansion, it's what it will take to keep this city from looking like Los Angeles did a decade ago a decade from now. It's still early enough to nip this in the bud, and it is increasingly looking like Monroe is the right man for the job.

Get out of Jail Free

Suppose you're little more than a kid, just barely out of your teens. You survived a horrific home life growing up, fell into the wrong crowd and made some bad choices in life. You got caught red-handed breaking into homes. Now you're doing your time, serving an eight-year sentence in a N.C. prison for burglary. So is the illegal alien in the next cell, who was caught doing the same thing. Now imagine how you'd feel if after four years, that illegal alien was released, while you are forced to serve out the rest of your sentence because you are a U.S. citizen.

At deadline, a bill to do exactly that was awaiting the governor's signature. It's a get-out-of-jail-free card that ultimately creates a dual criminal justice system for illegal aliens in which they are required to serve only half the time their American cell mates do for the same crimes. The bill is supposed to save money and free up jail beds by deporting illegal alien prisoners after they complete half their minimum sentences for non-violent -- but in many cases still serious -- crimes. If they come back and are caught, they have to finish their sentences.

The federal government is pushing states to adopt similar laws, and North Carolina state legislators, who this budget season were more interested in building zoo exhibits for polar bears than enough jail space to fully accommodate our growing needs, were happy to oblige them. Aficionados of the program claim the aliens don't come back, and that it has been highly successful in other states. In Arizona, which the feds like to hold up as a model, 1,400 illegal alien inmates have been referred for deportation, and only 28 have been rearrested here.

But there's a catch, one the feds and state officials aren't too eager to talk about. Only 10 percent of the 3,100 local jails in the United States have access to immigration databases. So if these immigrants do return and are rearrested, odds are high that no one will know they've even been here before, especially if they choose to live in small towns. This is one of the reasons gangs are flourishing in bedroom communities right outside major metropolises.

It's one of those programs that saves money, but ultimately costs lives down the road. But as long as the polar bears are happy, right?

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