CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - “I go around the city having conversations with people, but it’s generally a sole demographic I’m talking to.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney says he’ll speak to a black church, or a white rotary club, or an Hispanic-based organization... and have the same conversation. Similar thoughts; separate groups.
“We have a divided country, we have a divided city in a lot of ways,” he said to Molly Grantham, in a one-on-one interview. “We need to find common ground, before those extreme EXTREMES, descend upon us as a city."
He’s talking about the Republican National Convention 2020. Putney says he wants everyone to “Bridge the Difference” before that rowdiness arrives.
“People can protest he said, but they won’t be allowed to be violent.”
“Bridging the Difference,” is Putney’s new brainchild. He says he is beginning it early – 21 months before the RNC – with organized talks. Starting this Thursday, every month Chief Putney will host conversations in various parts of Charlotte inviting people from all over the county to participate. He says he wants the talks to be tough, honest, genuine and maybe even uncomfortable. Afterwards, he’ll ask people to sign up to be an ambassador to our city. That way if stuff happens, he says… if things go down... regular people who care about Charlotte can be leaned on to get involved.
This Thursday’s kickoff public event is at Johnson C. Smith, starting at 6pm. It’s free. Drinks and food will be served. If you want to go, RSVP through www.bridgingthedifferencenc.com (look under events).
You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org and any picture posted Putney hopes will be used with the hashtag, #BridgeCLT.
“How does conversation prepare the city for what could be coming down the pike in 2020?” asked Grantham.
“Easy,” he said. “Conversation starts a movement.”
Chief Putney says he hopes any movement that starts brings out action. Not just for 2020, but also in looking towards other major events coming to Charlotte early next year. February will bring about the NBA All-Star game, CIAA tournament and the ACC Tourney, all in one month.
Putney said he doesn’t anticipate any staffing issues for the All-Star game, that CMPD can handle that as things stand.
“I was talking to two officers the other day,” Grantham said to the Chief. “One of them said the All-Star game will be a test, a run-through, for RNC 2020. The other officer laughed and said, ‘Nothing could prepare us for the RNC 2020. We have no idea what will be coming.’ Which one of them is right?”
“They both are,” he replied with no hesitation. “I think we’ll be prepared. We’ve seen large scale events before. But we also have to get prepared for the divisiveness that we’ll encounter as well. We have to start bridging our differences now so we’re prepared with outsiders come into our city looking to bring it down.”
No extra money or resources are given to police for the big basketball tournaments coming to Charlotte in February 2019, but CMPD will get millions to help secure the RNC. When asked multiple times, Putney said he has no idea yet how he’ll spend it.
“I know there has been a letter requesting everything we want to buy,” he said. “But I haven’t even thought about it. They can hold their breath and wait on the list. Hopefully they won’t pass out but in due time, first quarter of next year, it should become clear."
In talking about other things affecting Charlotte-Mecklenburg recently, Chief Putney said he believes metal detectors should be in all CMS high schools.
“I’m looking forward to the assessment from the Superintendent and School Board,” he said. “To see what they think is practical and what they can do. But, I’m a proponent of it. I think it’s an interesting dynamic that you can see that you’re screened before you go to a high school football game, yet it’s okay to feel less safe in a classroom.”
Finally, Chief Putney says he has “no opinion,” on whether he thinks Charlotte should’ve gone after the RNC, but soon after it was announced it be coming here, Putney said he’d delay his retirement until after it was over.
“Are you glad you’re sticking around for the RNC?” Grantham asked. “I know what the PR answer is, the thing you should say, but are you really actually glad you’re sticking around for the RNC?”
“I don’t know I’m glad,” Putney said. “I just felt obligated. I really did. I don’t think this is the time for a lot of transition for the organization and city at large. I don’t like leaving business I feel is incomplete. I think this will be a good way to round out a career here in Charlotte."