Charlotte City Council Approves Police Body Armor, Airport Construction, NBA Letter
Charlotte City Council members approved new body armor and more community training for CMPD last night. They also got updates on the streetcar, the airport and the NBA All-Star game. We’ll get to those in a minute. But first, the votes involving CMPD and the frustration many at the meeting expressed about police treatment of African-Americans.
It was a crowded meeting, with many in the audience holding blue signs. Elsie Marie Greene called council members’ attention to them.
“They say, ‘We Are Charlotte. Our Voice Matters,’” she said. Some read “Body Cam Sham” and others had names of people shot by police.
When the subject of stronger body armor for CMPD came up, many in the audience snapped their fingers in appreciation as council member LaWana Mayfield asked these questions:
“At what situation would there be a need for a steel-plated body armor vest?” Mayfield asked. “Who would be using it because I think we need to have the conversation with as much transparency as possible.”
CMPD Deputy Chief Vicki Foster (who, like Mayfield, is African-American) provided the answer.
“The difference between what we’re asking for and what we currently have is the level three vests are the only vests that are going to stop a rifle or a shotgun,” she said. “What we currently have are for handguns.”
She says cops would not wear the new, heavier gear all the time. They’d keep it in the trunk of patrol vehicles and put it on in active shooter situations.
The proposal also included stronger helmets. All together, the total cost is about $600,000. Council members approved it unanimously.
When people in attendance had a chance to comment, Gloria Merriweather offered her own take.
“Can we get body armor vests for the black community since we’re the ones getting the bullets?” she said to applause. “How much of your funds are you willing to allocate to the protection of black Americans, people of color here?”
That’s how much of the public hearing went.
“Why do we as a black race have to be fearful of those who are supposed to protect and serve us?” Whitney Joyce Dunlap said. “Black lives matter.”
Dunlap was among several who called on CMPD to comply with the recommendations from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts pointed out a city committee plans to go through that report to show how CMPD stacks up. Elsie Marie Greene later replied:
“We demand a date by which that will be reviewed, and we demand to be included in the conversation on how it’s going to be implemented,” Greene said.
There are recommendations from the president’s report CMPD is already following. In fact, during the meeting last night, city council approved a consulting contract for additional training on community engagement and implicit bias. Deputy Chief Foster put it into context.
“It’s just one piece in the continuum of all the different diversity education trainings that we're offering,” she said.
CMPD has also gained national attention for its program called Cops and Barbers, which uses barbershops as a forum for police officers and young men to build relationships. And back when Rodney Monroe was CMPD chief, he was on one of the panels the presidential task force gathered.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts says city officials could do a better job explaining those things. That’s part of the reason for the comprehensive review they’re undertaking.
“There are many people who seem to be watching closely who may not know all that’s in that report,” she said. “It’s hard even for council members to keep up with every single one the police officers have implemented, are in the process of implementing, where they stand. And so really, we look forward to working better with our community so that we get the information into their hands.”
She recognizes there’s tension between some in the African-American community and the police department. She says she appreciates the passion the public speakers brought to the meeting – it shows there’s still work to do.
Streetcar, Airport and the NBA All-Star game
Charlotte is planning to extend its streetcar route another 2.5 miles, including to Johnson C. Smith University. Last month, the city received two bids for construction, both way over budget, says project manager David McDonald.
“At that time, we recommended rejecting those bids in order to seek a negotiated contract price, and we have been pursuing that course,” he says.
McDonald says they’ve found ways to lower the price. They include giving the contractors more room to work and separating some items from the bid that smaller contractors could do for less. He says the changes are significant enough to restart the bidding process.
“We believe the rebid will provide greater opportunity for subcontracting,” he said. “We believe it will increase competition among the prime contractors and result in better value to the city.”
McDonald says it won’t impact the timeline by more than a few months, with construction finishing by August 2020. He’s planning to have contracts ready for council’s approval this November.
The city council approved the cost of another construction project last night: the expansion of Concourse A at the Charlotte airport. The price tag is $120.6 million, but council member LaWana Mayfield pointed out:
“We all know the airport is a self-contained entity,” meaning it picks up the tab using its own revenue. The expansion will add nine gates.
The council also voted on basically a placeholder agreement for the NBA All-Star game. The league moved it from Charlotte next year because of House Bill 2. But league leaders left the door open to returning in 2019.
Council member Claire Fallon asked, “Is this contingent on us being good little people and doing what they want?”
Interim city manager Ron Kimble said to put the controversy over the law aside for this vote.
“It is not a statement about nondiscrimination or policies regarding that,” he said. “This is the business transaction side. It says if the game does come here in 2019, these are the conditions and the terms that would be in place for hosting the game.”
They include that Charlotte would spend a maximum of $600,000 on transportation and security services. It passed, with two council members voting no.