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CMPD: Can't trust 'em?


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In some pockets of Charlotte, cooperating with the police is something you do at your own risk. Attitudes about police officers in several Queen City neighborhoods run from scornful to distrustful. And for people who reach out to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, they can find themselves targets of retribution from neighbors.

In April, WBTV reported on a man who helped CMPD officers Sean Clark and Jeff Shelton who were injured in the Timber Ridge apartments. After the incident, according to the report, the man became a target of neighbors and even had a gun pulled on him for assisting the officers.

In February 2008, The Charlotte Observer reported that police received little cooperation during the investigation of a shooting that left a 12-year-old boy dead in west Charlotte. Despite the fact that numerous people witnessed the shooting at The Ramses Temple on Beatties Ford Road, no one was cooperating with the police.

Then in August 2008, the Observer reported that after a 14-year-old girl was shot and killed, the alleged shooter, Vanessa Hines, was assisted in her getaway by a resident in the west Charlotte neighborhood.

Incidents such as these seem to illustrate a lack of cooperation with CMPD in some communities in Charlotte. But what makes some people reluctant to get involved with police matters that could ultimately make their neighborhood safer?

"The criminal element of neighborhoods, people who are involved in the drug trade, robberies, gangs or what have you, have a stake in protecting their criminal enterprise. Part of that protection is spreading that message that you shouldn't talk to the police," said UNC-Charlotte criminal justice professor Joe Kuhns.

"People tend to want to stay to themselves and get on with their lives," he added. "Getting involved in a policing matter is a time commitment and an energy commitment that some people are not willing to make."

But some Charlotteans have other reasons for avoiding interaction with CMPD.

James, a lifelong resident of the Q.C., said he's seen officers harass people in his North Charlotte neighborhood for no reason.

"If you look a certain way, they're going to treat you a certain way," he said. James, who declined to give his full name, admits that he's had a few run-ins with CMPD and most of the time he cooperated. "They won't let you explain nothing. They already have their situations set up."

Kuhns said attitudes like James' show how the past can cloud present and future relationships with the police.

"Historically, among minority groups, there has been a higher level of distrust of police, generally speaking," said Kuhns. "The reasons for this go back to the mistrust and abuse of minority citizens that preceded our Civil Rights movement."

Those stories, Kuhns said, have been passed down through generations and shape many people's view of the police, even though CMPD and departments across the nation are changing.

"There is historical and contemporary mistrust of policing processes across demographic groups," he said. He explains that in certain neighborhoods within Charlotte, residents don't want anything to do with the police, while other neighborhoods are welcoming and cooperative with officers.

"There's evidence to that effect and plenty of research in the academic community." Kuhns himself has been a part of some of these studies.

"Police and citizen relationships are typically stronger in cities that practice community policing. Charlotte is considered nationally as a leader in community policing," said Kuhns. Community policing is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as "collaborative partnerships between the law enforcement agency and the individuals and organizations they serve to develop solutions to problems and increase trust in police."

CMPD's model of community policing has been cited by the DOJ in a 2003 study examining community policing across the country. In 2002, CMPD was awarded for excellence in problem-oriented policing by The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, which is a national organization that advances the concept and practice of problem-oriented policing in open and democratic societies.

Kuhns said police departments in Charlotte and other cities across the nation are moving past high levels of distrust by hiring more women and minorities and using them in communities that they either grew up in or in areas with similar types of citizens.

And for people who aren't criminals but still have a mistrust of the police, Kuhns said that it's probably because of stories they've heard growing up -- not from school, where children are generally taught to trust police, but from family members.

"If you are a legitimate, law-abiding citizen, but you have witnessed what you might perceive to be excessively harsh policing or stories have been handed down to you from your parents or other relatives, I guess I would characterize that as a generational transmission of distrust. It will go on until we get to the point where old stories are no longer relevant in to the current policing environment."

According to James, he wasn't always wary of the police.

"By the time I got to junior high school, it was a different ball game. [Police] are going to do whatever they have to do to protect themselves and their families," he said. So he believes in protecting himself and his family without enlisting the help of CMPD. James said if he sees someone trying to break into his car or home, he's going to take matters into his own hands.

"If the police come, they'd be coming for me," he said. And if he saw a prowler at his neighbor's door?

"I'm going to close my door and go to bed because I've been taught to mind my business, too," he said. "Somebody is going to snitch anyway. They already got informants around. They don't need me."

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