CMPD Gives Officers More Time To Walk The Beat
Nationwide, residents in high-crime areas often complain that police are slow to respond to their calls and do not have a relationship with the people in the community. Police have heard similar criticism from some Beatties Ford Road residents, one of Charlotte’s high-crime neighborhoods. To help improve relationships between police and residents there, officers are being assigned to foot patrols.
Last week, CMPD Officer Montray Gilchrist walked the Beatties Ford Road neighborhood with Officer Walter Webster. As they passed one house where three men were talking, Gilchrist yelled, “No fish today? You’re not frying fish today?”
“That was yesterday. Can’t do it every day,” the man said with a laugh.
The officers continued on past a busy bus stop at LaSalle and Taylor streets. Last year, bright lights were put in and trees cut to make the bus stop less attractive for illegal activities but Webster said, “It’s still the same, still a big drug area. We had a couple of shootings here a couple of weeks ago. Nobody got hurt but this is where we have a lot of ‘shots fired’ calls.”
No witnesses came forward about the shootings, something Webster and Gilchrist hope the foot patrols will change as residents get to know them better.
“It’s kind of more of a trust thing when you see us out here walking with everybody else, spending more time listening to their problems than jumping from call to call like we normally do when we’re driving,” Webster said.
CMPD started doing a few foot patrols in this community last fall. Now, Webster and Gilchrist patrol the neighborhood on foot for about two hours, two to three times a day.
As they continued their walk, they passed a man working on his car near the sidewalk.
“Hey sir, you got it right,” Gilchrist asked jokingly.
“Yes sir,” the man said.
Next, they stopped to talk to a retired veteran, who they see everyday sitting on his porch when they pass by. He offered them bottled water to help with the heat. As they approached another home not far way, a young man sitting on a porch got up quickly and opened the front door. Another tall, slim man, wearing a t-shirt and jeans came out.
“What’s going on. What y’all doing man?” the second man asked, stretching his arms to the porch ceiling. “Y’all been getting a lot of exercise lately. I saw you walking through the other day.
“Walking man,” Webster said.
“I know you burning some calories,” the resident said, as his friend sat quietly on the porch.
“You right. I get paid to do this…ain’t nothing wrong with it."
Gilchrist explained that they had encountered the young man the day before.
“We were walking up Estelle yesterday and he was having a disturbance with a lady friend. We walked by and we helped them sort out their issues and they went along peacefully,” Gilchrist said.
Gilchrist believes that encounter is why the young man approached them in a friendly manner this day.
“Yeah, he has no issues talking to us when we come by,” he said. “Hopefully he keeps that same respect so if you have to ever deal with him again, he knows who you are.”
This foot patrol occurred after five police were killed in Dallas but before the Baton Rouge police shootings. Webster said they realize they are more exposed on foot patrols which is why they walk different routines every day.
“Not everybody likes law enforcement but, I guess every officer out here is vulnerable right now but does it change the way I do things? No. He (Gilchrist) and I feel confident in our work and do the right thing and I won’t feel uneasy in a hood because I try to treat everybody fair,” Webster said.
The recent police shootings are on residents’ minds, too. As they walked down Remington Street, a 90-year-old man called out to them. Using a cane, he walked with Webster to the side of his neat lawn, to talk privately about the recent police shootings. Webster patiently talked with him for 10 minutes in the hot sun before resuming the patrol.
A couple of streets over, another elderly resident, sitting on his front porch with friends, waved the officers over. He talks to them often, usually about his young grandson, who was arrested last week.
He told the officers that his grandson was locked up on a $100,000 bond and that he was not going to raise the money to get him out. He said his grandson used to sneak his friends into his house through a window with an air conditioner and he was tired of it.
Gilchrist said he tried to talk to the young man on several occasions.
“I told him he would be in trouble if he didn’t quit,” he said. “Maybe that time sitting there (in jail) he’ll learn something. I hate our talks didn’t work, but definitely call us if you have more issues.
The elderly gentleman said he would call if anything came up.
According to CMPD officials, only the department’s Central Division downtown has permanent foot patrol officers. Others are assigned when officers can be freed up.
“It’s not 24/7 but it’s an opportunity for them to be on the ground on foot, building those relationships,” said Al Austin, who represents the Beatties Ford area. “Our desire is to have 24/7 coverage but we’re doing what we can with the resources we have now.”
Back on Beatties Ford, Webster and Gilchrist spot a man who they stopped a few days earlier. He and his friends acted suspiciously by ducking behind a shopping center when they saw the officers. Webster says they told them they were trespassing and to move on.
“Most of our issues lie behind the shopping center so if people see us more and get a sense of being comfortable that we’re here, that will eliminate half of our problems out here,” Webster said.
The officers spend most of their time in the residential section but also check in with businesses such as Derrick Johnson’s One Way Smokehouse on Beatties Ford. Johnson also lives here.
“Their presence is always going to make a difference but is that going to be the solution? I don’t know,” Johnson said. “Obviously when they’re present things are different. When they leave…”
At the beauty supply store next door, owner Waled Alboga says he remembers when police walked the area years ago. He’s glad they’re back.
“That’s what we need and not only me but my customers,” Alboga said. “The majority are ladies and when they see more police in the street, they like it, it’s more safe for them.”
The officers talk to Alboga a few minutes about concerns he has. Before wrapping up for the day, Webster spotted a woman in a car who they’ve been looking for because of numerous warrants out on her.
"The gray one that backed out of here and went down Beatties Ford Road, that’s her. Now we know what she’s driving,” Webster said. “I would have never been able to pull that off driving or never paid attention enough to look to be honest. You’re a lot more observant trying to watch everything while walking.”
And people here expect that of them to as they crossed the parking lot and a man getting off work approached them and asked, “Y’all seen where old boy went who was right here?”
They told the officers that they had just walked up and hadn’t seen the person. The man was just getting off work and complained about the heat. Gilchrist gave him a bottle of cold water before he ran on.