Most people do not approve of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s performance, according to a survey conducted by CMPD.
A majority also believes the department should be subject to additional independent oversight.
“We have no legitimacy as a police department if we don’t have the support of our community,” Deputy Chief Sherie Pearsall said at a Wednesday press conference at which the survey results were unveiled.
The department published the results as City Council prepares to hold a public hearing next week on a handful of modest changes to policing that fall far short of the “reimagining” of CMPD that elected officials and department leaders have discussed in recent months.
The city’s push to “reimagine” the department came as a result of nationwide calls for systemic change in law enforcement following the murder of George Floyd this summer in Minneapolis.
The Charlotte survey shows that less than half of the respondents — just 45% — are personally satisfied or very satisfied with CMPD.
Roughly 30% of respondents are personally unsatisfied or very unsatisfied, according to the survey.
Around 26% said they are neutral.
CMPD posted the non-scientific “8 Isn’t Enough” survey in June. The department collected and tabulated the results.
The survey’s name was inspired by the 8 Can’t Wait campaign, a collection of modest reforms CMPD has touted as real change, though the campaign requires only, for example, that police officers not needlessly inflict violence or senselessly escalate encounters with citizens.
About 5,000 people completed the survey by mid-September, according to Chief Johnny Jennings.
Of those, 2,220 were white, and 1,104 were African-American. Another 136 were Latino, 225 were multi-racial, 79 were Asian-American, and 60 were Native American. Not all respondents answered all the questions or provided their race.
The survey results released by CMPD do not break down the department’s approval rating or the answers to other survey questions by the race of the respondents.
While the survey found less than half of respondents are satisfied with the department, this likely overstates the percentage of Charlotteans who believe CMPD is doing a good job.
As Justin LaFrancois of Queen City Nerve explained in late July, the survey’s respondents were at that time disproportionately white women, with the number of African-American respondents lagging.
Whereas only 25% of the survey’s respondents were Black, approximately 35% of the city’s population was African-American last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As LaFrancois wrote at the time, “Accountability and reform take effort when it comes to engaging with community members who may not have enough trust in the police to even submit a response.” This engagement doesn’t appear to have happened.
The survey also found that by a 52-48 margin, respondents believe CMPD should be subject to additional independent oversight.
The survey identified three bodies that currently purport to provide some form of oversight of CMPD: the Citizens Review Board, city council’s Safe Communities Committee, and the Civil Service Board.
The Citizens Review Board is a largely toothless body that can review certain complaints against CMPD officers, but is utterly powerless to do anything about complaints the board believes are valid.
The Safe Communities Committee ostensibly offers elected officials an opportunity to oversee the department, but a review of the meetings conducted by the committee this summer as part of the “reimagining” CMPD campaign makes clear that its members largely take their cues from the cops. Oversight is minimal, at best.
And the Civil Service Board has the power to hire, discipline, and dismiss officers if the police chief recommends such action, but if department leadership allows cops to misbehave, no matter how egregious their behavior, then the board is powerless.
That happened earlier this year, for example, when high-ranking officers conspired to attack citizen-protesters with chemical weapons. The department’s leadership concluded that, with the exception of a sergeant who spoke too freely and gleefully about the plan and thereby garnered some bad publicity for CMPD, no one involved did anything wrong.
Survey respondents also identified the top three priorities for CMPD as crime prevention (54%), crime fighting (46%), and accountability and transparency (45%). As for preventing and fighting crime, these aims are likely to go unmet.
Other priorities included unspecified reform (36%), racial inequity and disparity (35%), community engagement (35%), and training/professional development (34%).
Among the reforms respondents said they support, 61% thought the police should undergo more training in de-escalation and community relations, while 13% believed the cops should be better trained to address mental health crises. Another 6% supported “early intervention” training.
Just 3% supported defunding the police, the same percentage that said no reforms are necessary.
Deputy Chief Pearsall said at this week’s press conference that CMPD intends to intrude more deeply into the lives of the city’s residents.
“Our goal is to work through the criminal justice system and the community to modify individual behavior from crime to acceptable social norms through intervention and positive alternative outcomes,” she said.
“We’re enhancing officer presence, visibility, and engagement through walking beats, bicycle patrols, and community roll calls.”
Pearsall further explained, “It’s going to require community engagement and collaboration, so we are strengthening relationships between community leaders and officers beyond traditional means. We will consistently communicate and collaborate with the community we serve.”