At a time when policing tactics are being scrutinized nationwide, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will test whether some low-risk calls can be handled effectively by civilian teams.
More specifically, CMPD will test whether a two-person team, made up of a mental health professional and an emergency medical technician (EMT), can defuse some low-risk 911 calls involving people who are undergoing a mental health crisis.
A pilot program will be launched as part of a broader initiative that seeks to “reimagine” policing in Charlotte.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, plans for the pilot were outlined — one of several recommendations that sprung from a city-funded study.
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City Council initiated the study last fall, shortly after nationwide protests erupted over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. In some cities, cries of “defund the police” went up.
As part of the Charlotte initiative, the city hired Rand Corp. to research and analyze CMPD’s operations, including calls for service.
Among Rand’s findings: out of 3.7 million 911 calls handled by CMPD from 2015 to 2020, about 7% — or 261,439 calls — were potentially related to mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness.
Using that and other data, Rand recommended several steps that CMPD could take to incorporate more civilian involvement in its work. One of those recommendations involved the creation and use of civilian response teams.
Fort Worth, Texas, is testing similar teams for low-risk calls, according to the Charlotte report.
Speaking at Monday’s council meeting, City Manager Marcus Jones said the Charlotte recommendations were based, in part, on community input.
“We feel we have a good start with this,” he said of the report.
Chief Johnny Jennings described the report as “the most comprehensive review and analysis” of CMPD in his nearly 30 years with the department.
“As I have stated many times,” he said, “we have been and will continue to be a learning agency. This is not something that was forced upon us.”
The report also analyzed data for traffic stops and use of force by CMPD officers from 2015 to 2020, finding that CMPD officers were 1.9 times more likely to use force on Black drivers versus white drivers.
Jennings said the data, while concerning, was misleading.
“When you hear ‘use of force,’ many times you think of a police officer actually inflicting a strike or something on an individual,” he said. “That’s simply not the case.”
Jennings said CMPD’s use-of-force data includes minor incidents, like scratches or bruises caused by handcuffs.
The report also found that Black and Hispanic drivers were stopped more frequently than white drivers. Yet when cars were searched, the report said, officers found illegal substances about evenly for all three groups.
“We’re going to continue to look deep into all the data,” Jennings said. “We’re not going to ever say that we are perfect and that we try to defend any of the bad information that we might get. We will own any of that and continue to work as an agency to take this information and make us better.”
Under the pilot program, the civilian team would work under the supervision of CMPD, from roughly 2 p.m. to 10 p.m, possibly in the department’s Providence, Central or North Tryon divisions.
Rand also said a “community advisory council” should be established to oversee the pilot’s implementation. That council should include emergency response organizations and mental health providers, Rand said.
In the budget for its current fiscal year, the City Council set aside $1.2 million to fund the pilot program.
To further increase civilian involvement, Rand recommended that CMPD also use more civilians in its training of police recruits and in its police youth programs.
The report recommended that city officials monitor the pilot program to consider expanding it to include other types of low-risk calls.