Investigating Charlotte's career criminals

Crime rate up, fewer inmates in jail
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael (Source: WBTV/File)
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael (Source: WBTV/File)
Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray (Source: WBTV/File)
Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray (Source: WBTV/File)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Right now in 2016, Mecklenburg County currently has fewer inmates in jail than usual. At the same time, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police says crime rate is up.

Chief Kerr Putney attributes escalating crime to repeat offenders.

"Without a doubt," he told anchor Molly Grantham. "And it's even worse than just 'escalating' crime. What I'm saying is when I was on patrol and we were locking people up and now they're getting out… their kids are getting out and committing felonies as well. So some of my frustration is that it's generational."

He says he's "irritated" and "passionately angry" so many repeat offenders are getting back out of jail and on the streets.

"26% of 13,000 arrests are people who are responsible for committing multiple felonies," he said.

That's 3,380 people Chief Putney says when they are arrested a third time, already have at least two prior felonies.

"We're getting much more focused on how to go after priority people," the Chief said. "We lock you up two years ago and you improve your craft while in jail. So now we're having to increase our innovative and creative ways to go after you again."

Much of that focus has to do with resources. He says if and when he's able to get more officers, he'll put them into crime reduction units so police can, quote, "be a lot more intentional about going after the right people."

But he warns the work being done now won't make a real impact for another 18-24 months.

"That's about how long it takes to get a felony conviction," he said. "So we won't see the results of our officers focusing on repeat offenders for another 18-24 months."

"Can we expect and hope that the crime rate will be down two years from now?" asked Grantham.

"Yes," Putney replied. "If we get the resources we need the crime rate will be much better. We'll see a reduction in our crime. There's no question."

Chief Putney also emphasizes he isn't in charge of who to lock up and for how long. Much of that falls on the shoulders of judges and, in part, Mecklenburg County's District Attorney Andrew Murray.

WEB EXTRA: Click here for a visual timeline of an average arrest in Mecklenburg County

Murray was elected as the county's head prosecutor in 2011.

"Since I've been in office the crime rate has gone incrementally down," he said. "We've made great strides. Now we're seeing crime increase. We hit a low, hopefully not an all-time low but still a low, and now we're starting to see it creep up some. Hopefully that's just a one year blip."

Murray says it's frustrating to watch it creep back up.

He agrees repeat offenders are a big focus. He says his office and CMPD work together to, quote, "target certain individuals we think are doing a lot of the crime."

"We want to bring those numbers back down," he said.

Separately, Murray also says his office is in great need of resources. He says he hasn't had any new Assistant DA's for eight years AND each of his prosecutors can have as many as 80-90 cases at any given time.

RELATED: Mecklenburg County sees increase in violent crimes, decrease in homicides

"We triage everyday coming into this office," he said.  "We can talk about more officers on the streets, which we need, which helps prevent crime, but those more officers will write more tickets and will do more investigations and it'll bring more into my office and that's a tight funnel."

WBTV also toured one of Mecklenburg County jails, run by Sheriff Irwin Carmichael. The cells he showed us at Jail North were empty. Sheriff Carmichael said there are currently about 1400 inmates in all of Mecklenburg County. Back in 2008 it was an all-time high with 3,000, with people sleeping on the floors.

"We're shocked the inmate population is where it is," Sheriff Carmichael said. "But we're not responsible for putting folks inside these facilities. It's just my job to manage them when they're in."

Sheriff Carmichael calls his low numbers a success, and an example around the nation.

"I talk with other sheriffs across this state and country," he said. "They're busting at the seams. They're building new jails. We're not. It's because of everything we're doing in this county – how we work together to hopefully keep violent offenders inside our facilities. The special programs we use for those committing 'simple' crimes, for those who make simple mistakes. We can get them and return them back out into the community. Give them second chances."

Sheriff Carmichael says he agrees the over 3,380 career criminals Chief Putney mentioned are the exact offenders who should stay behind bars.

WBTV also asked about electronic monitoring. Chief Putney says he's not a fan.

"Our preference is that people stay behind bars," he said. "But I know the bond system is what it is so what we prefer is if we're going to release you, we have the ability to monitor where you're going."

WBTV obtained numbers of how many accused offenders are currently wearing ankle monitoring bracelets as of Wednesday, May 4th. Of the 340 people wearing them, the charges breakdown like this:

  • 213 for violent crime charges
  • 92 for property crime charges
  • 33 for firearms charges
  • 2 for drug charges

"I'm not going to infringe on anyone's rights," said Chief Putney. "But my priority is the public who really deserve to be safer and more secure than they are right now because so many repeat offenders are on the streets."

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