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WCNC Charlotte sits down with CMPD police chief to talk about recruitment, building trust in the community

"We can’t understand where we're going until we’ve looked back of where we were," Heal Charlotte founder Greg Jackson said.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — WCNC Charlotte's Lexi Wilson spoke exclusively with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings to address the violence in Charlotte and the department's efforts to improve policing. 

It's been a challenging few years for police and the communities they serve, coping with everything from COVID-19 to the murder of George Floyd, and the demonstrations that followed. 

“It may shock you, but we’re not perfect, we're still human beings," CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings said. 

After several months of training, 30 new CMPD recruits gave their oath of honor Thursday morning. The instruction and drills are rigorous and full of purpose. 

“When I say we're the best department in the country, I mean that," Chief Jennings said. 

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Despite that, the blue line is thinning. 

“What we need more than anything is a bigger pool of candidates to choose from because we're going to select the best, we're not going to undermine what this profession is all about and what this badge stands for,” Jennings said. 

Jennings said the badge stands for serving and protecting the community, and because of that, he said he only wants to pin that badge on the best of the best. 

“Out of all our applications, people are surprised to hear that we only hire about 4% of the people that apply in our agency," Jennings said.  

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Many agencies are struggling to find recruits, officers are also leaving. 

“The issue is more on the retirements," Jennings said. "We had a great surge of hiring in the early '90s and all of those officers now are eligible for retirement, so as we see them go out the door, we don’t have as much success for bringing in new people."

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Bringing in new people has become a priority for CMPD. Hoping they can build support and morale within the community, part of that effort is the department working to change the mistrust between the police and their communities.

The department is working with a local nonprofit called Heal Charlotte to seek solutions to the divide and to educate recruits. 

“It’s been tough, it’s been really tough to look at the narrative that floats around with the law enforcement profession," Jennings said. 

Advocates say some of the mistrust, stems from the fact that the police don't always understand what their communities have been through.

“Discrimination, segregation, 400 years of slavery, 400 years of not being considered a citizen," Heal Charlotte founder Greg Jackson said. 

Jackson and Jennings are hoping to change that. 

Recently, 30 recruits went to the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro, to learn about African American History and reflect on what community policing should look like in the future. 

“Where does the passion come from, the anger, where does that really root from?" Jackson asked. "And we wanted to make sure that all of the recruits had an opportunity to understand that."

“It’s more than just sending our officers or our recruits to the museum and walk them through and let them experience it, it’s more about the conversation," Jennings said.

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Both leaders hope to recreate the negative narrative around communities of color and law enforcement with open conversation, transparency and community engagement.

“We have to be able to know each other," Jennings said. 

"We see recruits that are very interested in the history and how they can be part of the change really, we can’t understand where we're going until we’ve looked back of where we were," Jackson added. 

This was the second time Heal Charlotte has taken recruits to the International Civil Rights Museum. Both leaders say they plan to have this education for every recruit class going through the academy.  

Contact Lexi Wilson at lwilson@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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