Crime affects every citizen in Charlotte, whether you're a victim or just paying extra for services you don't necessarily utilize. The Queen City's next mayor will have some tough decisions to make about public safety. Just what will those decisions be? As part of an ongoing series, Creative Loafing asked the three men vying to lead the city about crime and what they plan to do as mayor.
Creative Loafing: What is the biggest crime-related issue in Charlotte?
Martin Davis: North Carolina systematically refuses to adequately fund our local criminal justice system, which is allowing the small percentage of citizens who choose to practice criminal behavior to terrorize our community. We also need additional personnel, which is a proven deterrent if utilized correctly.
John Lassiter: Our most pressing crime issue is the repeat criminal, who is arrested and rearrested because our system doesn't have the capacity to keep these people off the street.
Anthony Foxx: Our biggest challenge is getting serious, repeat offenders off the streets. To do so, I have supported hiring all of the police officers requested on my watch. I went to Washington [D.C.] in February to lobby for additional police officer positions through the federal stimulus bill. These hires will help with arresting offenders. But the prosecution and sentencing of repeat offenders rests with the district attorney and the state court system. I appreciate the partnership recently announced between Charlotte Police Chief Rodney Monroe and Mecklenburg County District Attorney Peter Gilchrist to address this problem. I am sure it will improve things. Over the long term, we have to eliminate the pipeline of offenders by lifting the ambitions of young people in Charlotte. That's why I pushed to end the deadlock with $4.7 million of SafeLight/SafeSpeed funds to keep effective Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers working. That's why I have pushed Charlotte City Council to expand mentoring, after-school enrichment and youth employment. As mayor of Charlotte, I will work hard to create an environment in which children know that we expect them to succeed, not to fail.
What will you do as mayor to more effectively work with CMPD in identifying and solving crime issues in the city?
Davis: CMPD seems to do an adequate job finding and arresting criminals given the available manpower. As mayor I would support their efforts by attempting to persuade state government to fully fund the justice system. We need beefed-up prosecution capability and expanded jail space. If the state refuses to fund criminal justice, they violate our Fifth and 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution to due process and equal protection under the law. This is a civil rights violation for which we could, and should, seek justice through the federal court system. I would attempt to persuade council to take that step if necessary.
Lassiter: I will work with our police chief, Rodney Monroe, who has done an excellent job in restructuring and reallocating his resources within the department. I will aggressively work with the DA, our judges and the sheriff and the general assembly to properly fund our resources for prosecutors, judges and jail cells.
Foxx: I have and will continue to do police ride-alongs -- joining our officers on shifts around our community to see what is really going on. I have and will continue to support the neighborhood policing approach Chief Monroe has brought to our city. This initiative allows us to target crime issues at the neighborhood level and align resources to respond. Some areas have burglary problems, which requires more frequent patrolling and community-watch support. Some areas experience more violent crime and drug-related issues, which may involve more surveillance work. By moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, we are starting to see real progress in decreasing crime, but there's clearly more work to do. I want every family to feel safe. I also want to ensure that our job recruitment and retention efforts never get sidetracked by concerns about crime.
Does Charlotte need more police officers? If so, where will the money come from to pay for the additional officers?
Davis: Yes, we need at least 300 additional officers. We could fund the additional officers by cutting the General Fund by 10 percent, which would free up $50 million (General Fund is approximately $500 million). Three quarters of the General Fund goes to pay salary and benefits for our 6,500 city employees. The average salary for a city employee is $50,000 plus benefits. According to the Chamber of Commerce, average per capita personal income for a Charlotte resident was $24,853 in 2007 (last year numbers weren't available). The city processed 65,000 job applications in 2008. Given the demand for city jobs due to excessive salary and benefits, we can certainly afford to reduce labor costs to get the police presence we desperately need.
Lassiter: We still need more police officers. Our individual police officers are covering too much territory per officer, particularly in parts of our city where we have a high concentration of gang and criminal activity. We have made a request for stimulus funding that will provide 250 officers over the next two years. In the event that stimulus money is not available, we have put aside adequate funds to pay for those officers with local dollars.
Foxx: Yes. Chief Monroe estimates that we need 250 over the next two years. We've sought federal stimulus funding for 150 of these officers. I am hopeful that we will get all that we've requested, but nationwide, communities have requested a total of 50,000 officers and only 4,500 will be hired with the available money. As mayor of Charlotte, I will comb through our city budget to find efficiencies to fund the remaining positions as a first resort.
How does Charlotte's crime rate hurt the city when it comes to bringing in new businesses?
Davis: Crime is the main driver of poverty in Charlotte. It is impossible to quantify the damage it does to our local economy, along with the devastating physical and psychological toll it takes on our citizens. The paramount role of government is to protect the lives and property of citizens. Our current radical, socialist, elitist, political regime has failed us miserably in this regard.
Lassiter: Our crime rate has continued to decline, particularly as it relates to violent crimes, murders and property crimes. But the perception can be just as problematic as the real statistics. If your home or your business has been violated through criminal behavior, it affects your perception about crime in our community. We need to make sure, as we market our city for economic growth and investment that we are viewed as a safe community.
Foxx: The city's job is to create conditions for economic development and better quality of life. Being perceived as an unsafe city is one of the worst marks against a community you can have with businesses looking to relocate. I don't see crime affecting new businesses to Charlotte but it does impact where those businesses locate. Fortunately, most parts of our city do not have a reputation for being unsafe. We cannot afford to take that for granted. Unfortunately, there are pockets of our city that are not considered as safe, and those areas suffer from a lack of jobs and quality goods and services. We are locating a new police substation on Beatties Ford Road to address that very problem, and I supported that investment. I want our city to be so safe that companies will want to locate anywhere within our city. That's going to be my goal as mayor of Charlotte.
Read the first two parts of our mayoral interview series: