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CMPD Chief: Addressing violent crime remains 'top priority'

Chief Johnny Jennings touted the work of CMPD officers to reduce violent crime and arrest violent offenders, but said the department is struggling to fill vacancies.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Violent crime in Charlotte decreased by 7% last year with homicides falling nearly 20%, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police stats showed Monday. 

CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings credited the hard work his officers did in 2021 but said the goal remains the same for his department: Reduce violent crime in the Queen City. 

"Addressing violent crime is continued and will continue to be my top priority for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department," Jennings said. "You've seen trends of violent crime across the country go up. In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg jurisdiction, we've had violent crime go down 7% overall in 2021."

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Jennings said CMPD seized 33% more guns than 2021, translating to roughly 3,000 illegal guns being taken off the streets. Jennings created CMPD's gun suppression team, a unit that was created in 2021 with a focus on getting guns out of the hands of people who intend to commit crimes. 

CMPD investigated 98 homicides last year. That number is down 18% from 2020, and Jennings expects it to drop even further after consultation with the district attorney's office. 

Compared to other major cities Charlotte was one of the few that saw a decrease in homicides.

“I feel that Charlotte represents the very best with what’s going on," Mayor Vi Lyles said. "I don’t believe another city has had such a reduction in crime this year.”

Nearly 300 violent suspects were arrested last year, according to Jennings. Those suspects were charged with crimes including murder, attempted murder, rape, armed robbery, and kidnapping. 

"This is incredible work," Jennings said. "This is work that requires a lot of resources and a lot of detail, specifically for what we are trying to accomplish within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department."

One of the goals of 2022 is to focus on reducing juvenile crime through a partnership with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and the community.

“We have to come up with ways that we’re going to ensure that one they don’t have access to these firearms whether through education, through parents and in the homes or continuing to do the work so people secure their firearms so they’re not victimized and stolen," Jennings said.

Jennings also credited a new de-escalation facility that opened last year for helping officers resolve situations peacefully, without further violence. Jennings said CMPD made changes to 35 internal policies last year, improving employee wellness and mental health. 

While crime did go down last year, Jennings said CMPD still has two major issues it faces: Juvenile crime and the hiring of new officers. CMPD has been among the agencies working to reduce crime at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools after several violent incidents at schools across the district

"When you start seeing that 13-year-olds and 12-year-olds are carrying firearms, that should be something that's unacceptable," Jennings said. "Not just from a law enforcement perspective but from a society perspective."

Jennings also lamented the shortage of officers on the job, saying CMPD is down up to around 200 officers at any given time. 

"Anywhere from 180 to 200 at some point, and if we started another class, it could drop drastically down to 150," Jennings said. "So it's kind of a moving target when you start talking about vacancy rates." 

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Jennings said CMPD currently forecasts 2024 to be its most challenging year for recruiting and retention. Compared to the early 90s, the pool for quality candidates isn't as deep, and efforts to reach prospective officers in the community haven't been as successful as they'd like. 

"In the early 90s, there was a big push to hire 125 new officers. I was actually one of those, and those officers are now retired," Jennings said. "There was a line out the door to join the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Fast forward into 2020, 2021, 2022, and that line has diminished so we are actively and aggressively trying to build that back up to where people look at law enforcement as a preferred profession."

Contact Briana Harper at bharper@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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