Q&A: Chief Johnny Jennings talks about plans to add more civilians to CMPD


The city of Charlotte recently outlined a plan whereby the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department would add more civilians to its ranks.

Most notably, CMPD would test a pilot program that would dispatch a two-person civilian team — a mental health worker and an emergency medical technician (EMT) — to handle some low-risk calls dealing with people in mental health crises.

The city’s plan, the result of an extensive study, also called for more civilians to be involved in CMPD training as well as in the department’s youth programs.

In a one-on-one interview with QCity Metro, Chief Johnny Jennings talked about how he plans to incorporate more civilians into the department he manages.

In the Q&A below, answers were edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. At last week’s city council meeting, a plan was announced for CMPD to hire more civilians to assist with public safety. What does this plan look like?

Chief Jennings: We’ve actually been working on this for the better part of several months now. We’ve done a full evaluation and analysis of positions that we currently have within our department that can be done by civilians. And with that, as we continue to look at it, we are identifying those positions and we are turning them basically from sworn allocations to non-sworn allocations.

Q. In what areas and departments does CMPD plan to hire civilians?

CJ: Yeah, so we have a few that we’ve looked at. We have several at the police academy, anywhere from training positions to background check investigators. We’re also looking at positions that are supervisory roles here, like crime scene search, property care control. We have some positions (in public affairs) that we know we can take in from sworn positions, as well as communications positions, and also on our real-time crime center.

All of those have multiple positions or multiple levels that we were able to civilianize, and it gives us a good opportunity to put more of the sworn officers in some of these vacancies that we have not been able to fill or sworn in…to put them back in the street.

Q. How many civilians do you plan to hire, and what makes these individuals eligible to work with CMPD?

CJ: I don’t have a number to give you. I can tell you that it’s going to be a significant number. Maybe not hundreds, but right now we’re looking at anywhere from 30 to 50 positions we hope to be able to fill.

What makes it different is, we can specialize these assignments, particularly when you look at our community policing crisis-response team that’s paired with the mental health clinician. Those are pretty simple, as there’s a certain certification that you have to have as a clinician that has that requirement.

We also have positions where we’re looking at individuals with legal backgrounds, such as paralegal work, that can fill some of these civilian positions that’s dealing with policy and directives reviewing for our team. Different ones will have a different area of expertise, and that’s just a matter of us being able to find good quality candidates. We know they’re out there, and we just have to pair them up with the right people and get them hired.

Q. What are some of your concerns with adding civilians, particularly with the crisis-response team?

CJ: Obviously you have some concerns with the safety of any personnel, any employee within our department. So, I don’t want to put someone in a situation where we’re dealing with…those types of calls that can escalate very quickly.

So we have to first and foremost make sure that we keep our people safe, whether they’re sworn or not sworn, and then we also have to make sure that we’re serving the public appropriately. If someone requests a police officer and not a civilian, then my hope is that we will still be able to provide that and send a police officer or even send a dual response with police, sworn and non-sworn.

Q. Are there any other cities doing this?

CJ: There are some other cities that are models of doing some of this, particularly with the mental health calls for service. There are some other models that are out there that we’ve actually been able to look at and take some from all of that and tailor it to Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Hopefully, we can see some success, but I’d like to see the pilot get underway and see how effective we can be. At the same time, if we can provide a proper service to our community and a proper response, then that’s exactly the ultimate goal of what we want to do.

Q. When will the hiring process start for civilians to work with CMPD?

CJ: We already have some that we’ve already hired. Then we have some positions that we’re currently taking applications for, and then we have some that we have not yet put out. We’re still having to develop certain job descriptions and standard operating procedures and all of that, but my hope is, by the end of the year we’ll have a significant number of what we’re trying to do — either these positions are filled or at least in the process of filling. And just keep in mind, too, that this is something that’ll also go into next year as we continue to identify areas that we need that we could use non-sworn personnel for. We’re going to continue to do that.

Q. According to the city’s study, RAND Corp found a history of potential bias in CMPD interactions with Hispanic and Blacks individuals. How do you plan to use this new civilian plan to push that narrative in a positive direction?

CJ: We talked about some of the positions involved, apparently civilianization of the police training academy, or some of the positions at the training academy, that can look at some of those things where we’re training, do some deeper dives into how our training is going and are they identifying any biases within our training… 

But then you also look at policy and directives…and see where those gaps are and where there might be some things that we can even strengthen what our expectations are of our officers. So, those civilian positions will give us another perspective outside of the sworn officer and allow us to take all of that in consideration on how we, what direction we want our department to go in.


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