CMPD Chief Putney's frank talk about the homicides in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney took over the department's helm in 2015. But, it's this year that's causing a range of emotions.

"Frustration, anger, hopelessness, loss. Loss of potential," Chief Putney told WBTV. "We're having young people and let's be honest about it – young black men who are losing the potential to be good brothers, husbands, fathers down the road because we're having minor disputes that are costing them their lives and that is not the future that Charlotte deserves.

Looking ahead to Charlotte's future means looking back on this year so far.

To date, more than 70 people have been killed.

"And I hate talking about them as a number because these are lives lost," Chief Putney said. "We're meeting with the families of people who just lost family members so – it's so more than just a number."

The city is on track to rival 2005's dubious distinction of 85 homicides.

It was even worse in 1993 when street violence in Charlotte was so deadly, the killings seemed constant. 129 people lost their lives that year.

"It is not back in the early 90's when we were talking about cocaine, crack cocaine in particular driving a lot of the homicides over turf and drug trade. That's not the same case right now. Now it's a lot more simple but a lot more frustrating," Chief Putney said. "What's driving it right now is those minor disputes that escalate. So what we're trying to do is bring in partners who can hit a release valve for them, teach them how to have that interpersonal conversation and overcome that conflict and do so without violence."

Police say the circumstances behind the homicides vary: arguments, domestic violence, drugs, robbery.

The Chief says officers have seized 1800 guns so far this year, and that more than 400 of them were stolen.

But there's another statistic in the homicide numbers.

"79% of our victims are black. 75% of our suspects are black," Chief Putney said. "If that were in proportion, we'd be talking about a reduction versus last year. We'd be under 45 homicides overall."

Putney says he doesn't have a problem talking about the issue of black on black crime.

"We're not seeing a lot of people talk about what really needs to happen in specific parts of the city to change these outcomes and a lot of that has to do with race, culture and hopelessness," Putney said. "We whisper about it. We don't do much about it though as far as action but what I'll tell you is people get upset when I say that but it's the truth."

Putney adds the problem is intra-racial and interpersonal, and that too many are reaching for guns to solve arguments.

"It's people who choose, I think the easy way out, instead of doing the hard work of having tough conversations and coming to some middle ground which takes effort and a level of maturity to be honest with you" he said. "They're taking the easy way out and grabbing a weapon.

Chief Putney went on to say "And I talk about culture because machismo – this manhood concept out of control – is driving some of it too. You can't back down so you're going to charge forward and you don't have to courage to do so as a man should and you're grabbing a weapon and solving minor conflicts by taking a life. I just think it's tragic and it takes a lot of effort from a lot of people to turn that tide."

While there is crime everywhere, the Chief says street crime in plaguing minority communities and at times leading to homicides.

"So the intentionality of having a lot of resources put on the problem in areas that are impacted the most, mainly our black communities, I think we pay greater dividends" Chief Putney said. "We also need to stop acting as though this is a problem that doesn't affect everybody because it does. We're losing social capital in this community and we can't let race keep us from doing the work we need to do to have better outcomes and improve that area."

What now? How does the city reverse the homicide trend of 2017?

The department says officers are keeping an eye out for repeat offenders but police work in 2017 is evidently more than making arrests.

"What we're trying to do is partner with agencies. We've got the Community Relations Committee trying to do work around mediation and conflict resolution," Putney said in a one-on-one interview. "Unfortunately, everybody wants to lay it at our feet. But okay. So let us be the catalyst to have some different outcomes. We're connecting with people like the CRC."

The Chief believes a key component is the department's Community Empowerment Initiative where CMPD is teaming up with other agencies and non-profits to go into troubled neighborhoods and find out what people need.

The thinking is heal now, prevent a homicide later.

"To really take a holistic approach with how we heal families and people because if we do it person by person, family by family we could really make some headway but this is long term investment and people lose focus," Putney said. "They want a solution in a soundbite versus rolling up your sleeve and putting in the work that pay huge dividends for the people who are most vulnerable."

Helping is one thing. The Chief believes parenting is another.

"And what we're not talking about too around accountability is responsibility and we need parents to step up and be good parents so that they can model behavior they want to see in their young people," he said. "Parents need to handle conflict better so that our kids see from us what that looks like and that's part of the Community Empowerment Initiative."

For a city in deep introspection about what's happening in 2017, the hope is there will be lessons learned so the feelings - frustration, anger, hopelessness, loss - so far this year won't come back again.

"That is not the future that Charlotte deserves. We deserve much better but we all need to come together to do our part to make that happen," and for the Chief, "where you lay blame is irrelevant to me. What you do to prevent it negative outcomes is what I'm most concerned about."

After being Chief for just over two years - does Putney take it personally that the increase in homicides is happening under his watch?

"I take a lot of things personal but what I also take personal is the opportunity to change these outcomes." he said. "What I take personal is the opportunity to be the catalyst to change these outcomes because next year if we're having a similar conversation then a lot of us haven't done all that we could."

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