CHARLOTTE – Police Chief Kerr Putney, Sheriff Garry McFadden and Fire Chief Reginald Johnson have expressed a renewed sense of commitment to keeping south Charlotte safe.
They spoke to the Ballantyne Breakfast Club on Dec. 1 at the Ballantyne Hotel. The club serves as the public information arm of South Charlotte Partners, which advocates for favorable transportation, development and quality of life.
“We decided to have this community safety event because through the holidays there’s an uptick in crime,” said Victoria Nwasike, co-chair of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club. “Unfortunately, there’s also an uptick in accidents.”
Putney apologized during the meeting about not being as present in the area, noting he would be more visible this coming year.
He briefly talked about plans to add another South Division office. Having officers at two offices will help with response times in an area with traffic issues.
“It doesn’t matter how many people,” Putney said. “It’s how we position them.”
The office will be on Providence Road West, near Johnston Road, according to South Division Capt. Christian Wagner. He anticipates it opening sometime after the Republican National Convention in 2020.
Putney said he typically speaks to different groups throughout town, but he would like to see all sides come together, especially as the city prepares for the RNC.
“We’re not going to tolerate extremes that come out and want to harm our city,” Putney said.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department launched a series of “Bridging the Difference” seminars Nov. 15 at Johnson C. Smith University. He said a lot of people attending the event were from the south Charlotte area. Many people, he said, left with ideas of how well residents are connected as a city.
“I think we have a lot more in common than divides us,” Putney said.
He took questions from the crowd. One parent wanted to know how he was going to keep schools safe.
Putney said he’d be OK with having more officers in schools, but adding more officers to his limited resources would increase taxes. CMPD employs 51 officers dedicated to schools, in addition to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Police.
“What I have been preaching is we need to have deterrents prior to people coming on campus in the first place,” Putney said. “We can deal with a scuffle between the kids. A gun is a game changer.”
McFadden, whose career includes 37 years with the CMPD, vowed not to do anything that would jeopardize the safety of his family, friends or the community.
Unlike Putney, McFadden said he does come to the south Charlotte area often. He likes to shop and eat around here.
“We’re not going to be the same Charlotte-Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office that you are accustomed to,” he said. “I’m there for you. I work for you.”
McFadden wants to be the best sheriff’s office in the nation. He believes conversations are vital, because while leaders won’t have all the answers, they are willing to engage in conversations that lead to those answers.
He plans to form a community relations committee of about 15 to 20 people that are going to engage in the community.
McFadden also expressed interest in ensuring people leaving jail have secured jobs.
“We try not to say inmate, because we want to prepare our returning citizens to be your neighbors,” McFadden said.
Reginald Johnson has been in his role as fire chief for seven months, enough time to begin evaluating the fire department and determining ways to improve service.
Johnson said he is focused on working with the city manager to continue providing fast response times even as areas like Waverly and Rea Farms continue to swell and more three-to-five floor wood-frame apartments pop up.
Work groups will continue to assess how the department is doing and making recommendations to improve.
Johnson is working on a five-year staffing plan to address the city’s growing needs when it comes to firefighters and stations. He plans to step up recruiting, particularly with women and minorities.
“In order to support those operations, you have to have people in support staff,” Johnson said. “The fire department is severely understaffed, in my opinion, in that realm.”