- Monroe sits with members of his family during a ceremony held in his honor on June 23. (Photo credit: Ryan Pitkin)
At the June 8 Charlotte City Council meeting, it became clear how the dynamic between police and community leaders in Charlotte has changed during Rodney Monroe's seven years as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief.
A group of more than 30 community organizers and activists held signs thanking Chief Monroe and CMPD while 11 people spoke in support of a civil liberties resolution and ordinance (passed later that night) which aims to curb racial profiling and remove CMPD officers' authority to enforce immigration laws, among other things.
Most speakers expressed their admiration for Chief Monroe, who left the department on July 1. Some spoke about the improvement in CMPD's community relations since Monroe took charge.
"This is the first time in my history as a civil rights activist that I've had a relationship that's been cordial, cooperative and productive with a police department," Rev. Kojo Nantambu, former president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP chapter, told council members. "I hope you continue to keep what he put in place moving forward so you can have that same kind of relationship with Charlotte from now on."
The Civil Liberties Resolution targets areas of tension between the community and police, including reinforcing the right for residents to demonstrate peacefully and film police while they work. It also prohibits police from inquiring about a person's immigration status unless he or she is suspected of gang activity or terrorism.
The resolution is Monroe's wrap-up to a tenure during which he implemented multiple programs to build relationships between police and citizens, especially those in black and poor communities.
Critics have said statutes and protocol already practiced by CMPD cover the language in the ordinance. On June 8, speakers like Jibril Hough, activist and spokesperson for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, said they are comforted by the deliberate nature of the document and believe it helps outline what racial profiling means.
"Someone had said the restrictions we're asking for are already in place. Well, if they are, something hasn't been working," Hough said. "This ordinance will not only help the city and people of Charlotte, it will help CMPD continue to make needed improvements and shine as an example for other troubled cities around the nation."
The council approved the resolution, along with an ordinance allowing the city's Citizen Review Board to hear complaints about profiling, unanimously.
The council's discussion of the resolution showed they agreed on most fronts with the activists in the crowd. It was also telling in how important the opinions of Monroe and Deputy Chief Kerr Putney — sworn in to replace Monroe as Chief of Police on June 29 — are in the eyes of the city's officials. Some expressed reservations about aspects of the resolution, and said they were approving it based solely on the word of Monroe and Putney, who assured them officers want the new regulations implemented as much as community leaders do.
District 7 representative Ed Driggs is concerned police would be scared to do their job and implied that data compiled through the resolution may prove his point. "You don't want that officer to hesitate and not protect somebody because he's worried about whether he's met all of the requirements," Driggs said. He went on to say he would support the bill "based on the assurances that I've received from Monroe and Putney that the (CMPD's) work will not be hindered in any way."
District 2 representative Al Austin said he has been stopped multiple times by police around the country due to his skin color. His next words echoed those of many of the activists who spoke before him.
"Our community could be in some other place at this time, but we've got citizens who work very hard with our police officers and Chief to strengthen our community," he said. "I'm very proud of where we are at this point."
It wasn't all love for the Chief as he departed for the next chapter in his life. Members of the police community have expressed in the past, off the record, that Monroe often ignores police concerns in favor of programs and ideas that will play well with the media or community organizers.
A retired CMPD Sergeant told Creative Loafing he ended his 30+ year career with the department after just two years under Monroe's leadership.
"He created a lot of division within the department in the beginning by randomly promoting only those he was associated with," the former Sergeant, who did not want to be named, said. "He asked no advice of people like myself who had been there for many years and did our best to run that department the way it should be run. He ruined the entire morale of the police department except for with the ones he promoted."
Responding to these statements, Monroe said, ""The CMPD is an organization made up of great people with a multitude of ideas and opinions. Although we may not have always agreed, I had and continue to have a profound respect for them all."
The department's leadership has been vocally supportive of Monroe during his retirement. At a retirement ceremony held in the council's chambers on June 23, CMPD Deputy Chief Katrina Graue admitted being reluctant to follow Monroe into his first "Hands Up, What Now?" forum, which brings CMPD leadership and officers together with members of troubled communities to form a dialogue. She said she was quickly convinced it was the right move.
"I was a little apprehensive. I was optimistic, but I was a little anxious about how that first one was going to go," Graue said. "And I think that it's been one of the best things we've done; just trying to show who we are as police officers and as human beings and to better understand the perspective that our communities have."
Others have been critical of Monroe since he arrived in Charlotte. Conservative radio host Keith Larson, who confronted Monroe during a radio interview in 2008 about allegations that he kept a degree from Virginia Commonwealth University that was given to him mistakenly, recently published an editorial in the Charlotte Observer blasting the media and city officials who have "consistently kissed" Monroe while he oversaw multiple officer-involved shootings, sexual assaults and foul play from a detective that affected the case against a cop killer.
Community activists have also had their problems with Monroe, as groups have continually called for him to release the dashboard camera footage in the killing of Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man shot and killed by CMPD officer Randall Kerrick in 2013. Kerrick was quickly arrested and later indicted on charges of voluntary manslaughter. The North Carolina Attorney General's Office is currently in posssession of the dashcam footage.
Family members of Janisha Fonville, the 20-year-old woman shot and killed by a CMPD officer responding to a domestic disturbance in February, have repeatedly showed up to Monroe's "Hands Up, What Now?" community forums to confront the Chief about what they say was an unjust shooting. No charges have been filed in Fonville's case.
- In June 15, Deputy Chief Kerr Putney got a taste for the life of a Chief of Police after it was announced he would be replacing Monroe. He was sworn in June 29. (Photo credit: Ryan Pitkin)
An ongoing theme prevails when speaking with supporters and critics both: that Monroe is departing at a time when the CMPD's relationship with the community will be tested.
Kerrick will go to trial for voluntary manslaughter in July. City officials have praised Monroe's actions, who visited that scene, as he does with almost every murder in the city, and said his response following the shooting helped Charlotte avoid civil unrest. The question remains whether that will continue throughout the trial.
At the June 22 city council meeting, City Manager Ron Carlee presented a video showing members of the community speaking about their experiences with Monroe, and then each council member addressed him personally. By the time the council presented him with a framed photo of the Charlotte skyline, the Chief's recognition ceremony was well into its second hour.
"I really think he changed the culture of Charlotte," Julie Eiselt, founder of Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte, said in the video. "He changed the culture of crime and how we're not afraid to address it and talk about it."
Council members had nothing but positive things to say of Monroe at the meeting, as well. At-large representative David Howard announced himself as president of the "Rodney Monroe Fan Club" during the meeting's introductions.
He later told Monroe that he credits his intitiatives like Cops and Barbers (the partnership between CMPD and the North Carolina Barber's Association that launched the "Hands Up, What Now?" forums) with mitigating the tensions that can lead to city-wide unrest. Howard referenced Monroe's participation in the North Carolina Victim Assistance Network and the Charlotte-based support group Mothers of Murdered Offspring as reasons he is confident the city will remain peaceful throughout the trial.
"Some of the reasons we're not seeing the turmoil here that we see elsewhere, is that problems can spring up from how a family feels they were treated at their most vulnerable," Howard said. "When you have someone who's been there with you through the whole process, it's hard to want to riot or get out in the streets and be mad."
District 3 representative LaWana Mayfield spoke as not only a council member, but a former neighborhood organizer.
"When I worked as a community activist, you always had your door open," she told Monroe. "Those who work on the ground know a little more about what you do than some folks...You made sure people knew there was a place where they had a voice."
In the days before Monroe's departure, Creative Loafing caught up with Hough to speak about Monroe's legacy among the current activist community and whether he thinks it's realistic that this close relationship can coninue.
"We've seen police chiefs in the past who distance themselves from activists and the people at a grassroots level," Hough said. "Was he perfect? No, none of us are, but he was a chief who reached out and was accessible to the people and that will be his greater legacy: being able to reach out to activists and being able to work with community leaders."
Hough said he has also worked with Putney over the last year on multiple projects and outreach programs and that he and many in the activist community were relieved to hear Putney was named as Monroe's replacement.
"I think the progress will continue to grow in (Charlotte's) police force," Hough said. "We can always make improvements, but I think he's more in line with what Chief Monroe has been doing than some other people in the department or someone from the outside would be."Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated Monroe allegedly received an improper degree from Virginia Military Insititute. The degree in question came from Virginia Commonwealth University.