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Charlotte's violent crime was down in 2021, and gun seizures were up

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings presents 2021 crime statistics to City Council members on Jan. 10, 2022.
City of Charlotte
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings presents 2021 crime statistics to City Council members on Jan. 10, 2022.

After Charlotte saw two years of increases in violent crime, 2021 was something of a relief. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say violent crime dropped by 7% last year compared to 2020. And overall crime was down 5%. The department released those numbers Monday as part of its end-of-year report.

WFAE’s Lisa Worf joins Sarah Delia to break down the numbers.

Sarah Delia: Lisa, what do we know about these decreases in violent crime?

Lisa Worf: First, let me put the numbers into context. Violent crime was up significantly. In 2020, there was an increase of 16% and Charlotte almost reached its record of homicides for the year – 118.

This year, robberies, aggravated assaults and homicides were all down. Homicides by 18%, but there were still 98 of them. That’s still much higher than six or seven years ago. For perspective, in 2015, there were 60.

Police Chief Johnny Jennings has said he expects last year’s homicide numbers to go down with some being ruled justified homicides.

Now, reported rapes were up 19% this year. Jennings said he believes that’s partly because schools were open and students had more of a chance to report them to counselors.

2021 crime statistics
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
Here's a look at some of the 2021 crime statistics provided by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Delia: Are city leaders crediting any efforts or initiatives for the decrease in violent crime?

Worf: Jennings has noted gun violence has fueled a lot of crime in Charlotte. Yesterday, he talked up the work of a team of detectives across units known as the crime gun suppression team. The team was created last year.

Johnny Jennings (recording): Everything they do is intentional to make sure that we not only target that individual but target the firearms that they might be in possession of. And they’ve been very successful in their first full year of being able to do that.  

Worf: Jennings said officers seized nearly 3,000 illegal guns last year. That’s a 33% increase from 2020. And this team seized 155 of them from those he said were involved in the most violent crimes.

Delia: We’ve been hearing a lot about the Safe Charlotte initiative. Did that come up at all as the chief was talking about the crime statistics?

Worf: Yes, it did during the discussion with City Council. It’s a plan the city adopted to, as city officials have called it, reimagine policing and community safety. As part of it, community groups received grants to help make Charlotte safer. Robert Dawkins with Safe Coalition NC says the numbers show it’s a return on that investment but also a larger footprint of community organization.

Robert Dawkins (recording): Usually, we’re hear talking about what’s not going right. But today we’re seeing if the city, if the organized community continues this, this is the direction that we want to see it continue to go.

Worf: And he noted that homicides were down not just across Charlotte, but in specific areas that have been known as hotspots.

Now, Darrell Gregory, who leads Youth Based Strategies of Mecklenburg County, says a lot of small community groups working on reducing violence have been overlooked by CMPD, the city, county and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Darrell Gregory: You have organizations and individuals who have the bandwidth to be effective, not just funding friends of people with higher-ups and decision makers, but effective individuals and organizations. They’re not even given a serious look.

Delia: Now, in the past couple years we’ve heard a lot about teens being involved in crimes. How did last year shape up?

Worf: We don’t have the numbers for that right now, but Jennings says they’re working on them. But, yes, we certainly have heard of a lot of teens in Charlotte being the victims of violent crime and also charged with them. Jennings said it’s going to continue to be a focus of the department’s efforts this year. He told City Council last night a lot of guns found in schools aren’t coming from student’s homes.

Jennings (recording): It’s scary to me, like I mentioned earlier, that a young 13-, 14-, 15-year-old could have access and make a few phone calls and have access to a firearm.

Worf: Beyond trying to remove illegal firearms from the street, he said efforts targeting juveniles will include educating teens and their families and also providing gun locks. He pointed out CMPD just launched a campus Crime Stoppers program that offers students up to $500 rewards for tips that lead to a confiscation of a gun.

Delia: What other priorities does Jennings say CMPD has for this coming year?

Worf: Recruiting is a big one. Jennings says the department has been up to 200 officers down. He says 2024 will be the most challenging year, since so many officers are expected to retire over the next few years. Jennings says the department has been aggressively trying to build that up. The department’s end-of-year report says a recruitment campaign yielded 2,300 applications and 135 new hires.

Delia: And, Lisa, I understand there was an embargo on these statistics.  

Worf: Yes, Chief Jennings held a press conference earlier yesterday about the year-end report. CMPD embargoed any information from that until Jennings presented the report to City Council last night. CMPD has done this at times in the past, but I first noticed it yesterday. The department wouldn’t comment on its reasoning, but the language on the city of Charlotte embargo says it allows for fair and equal access to content and gives media the opportunity to ask questions and "accurately report on matters while ensuring that publicity doesn’t appear before the material is accessible to internal stakeholders as well as the public." But it’s also such a tight embargo that it makes it hard to share information with sources to get comment.

Delia: That’s WFAE’s Lisa Worf. Thanks, Lisa.

Worf: Thank you.

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Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.
Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.