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CMPD Chief Kerr Putney On Charlotte's Homicide Rate And The Latest On His Unsettled Retirement

CMPD Chief Kerr Putney talks 98 homicides in Charlotte YTD and his contentious retirement plan with WFAE's Gwendolyn Glenn.
Sarafina Wright

It’s been a violent year in Charlotte. There have been 98 homicides, the most since 1993.  At this time last year, there were 51 homicides. CMPD Chief Kerr Putney addressed those numbers today in what could be an exit interview. 

That’s because it remains to be seen if CMPD Chief Kerr Putney will retire in January. Putney would like to retire and then return as chief in March through next summer’s Republican National Convention. However, State Treasurer Dale Folwell says Putney’s plan violates state law that defines retirement.

The interview begins with Putney addressing the number of homicides.

Chief Kerr Putney: I don't focus on the number. I don't. I focus on the fact that a family has been devastated and lost a family member. So I think even when we had 58 when we had 47, I didn't see that as a positive thing because those were 58 and 47 family members, families that had been devastated, family members that have been lost. So I just look at the rate and we look at comparable cities and we see that a city, given our size, has a level of violence, unfortunately, that it seems people are willing to tolerate. 

Gwendolyn Glenn: Is there any difference in terms of the victims and those involved? Because I remember years ago when I would hear about Charlotte, people said, oh, yeah, yeah, maybe a lot of crime and homicides, but it's mostly domestic-related, people who know each other. Is there a difference that it’s now more strangers as opposed to domestic? 

Putney: No, no. And domestics are only about 10 to 15% every year. But acquaintance is in the upper 80s, 80 to 85% of the people are going to know who committed a crime that led to their death. And what we're seeing is 18 to 24-year-old young males are the people who are losing their lives mostly and the people who are taking those lives. And it's generally over small things like an argument over a girlfriend or $20, a small amount of marijuana, very minor conflicts that people decide to use a gun to resolve. And that's the disappointing part. 

Glenn: What are some things that the department is looking at now to do differently in terms of tackling this? 

Putney: We're not doing anything differently because we've been doing a fantastic job attacking it the way we can already. Our arrests in repeat violent offenders is up by 18%. Our gun seizures are up as well, over 5% more guns taken off the street, illegal guns, than last year. Our officers are also engaging our community in deeper levels and building those deeper relationships.

I think the issue is we need to invest as a city in the programs that work to have our young people by the third grade reading and doing math on grade level to reduce absenteeism, to reduce behavioral issues that happen in school, so that we also can help people be employable when they reach the age of 18 and beyond. 

Glenn: Is there anything that you have thought about, especially now that you're leaving? It's not even on the table that legislators that the federal government have not thought about in terms of tackling this. Anything comes to mind? 

Putney: No. What comes to mind is we have millions of dollars available locally that need to be invested in young people. We got to have that funding go to people who are doing good work. People like Greg Jackson, Heal Charlotte, Arkevious Armstrong who's doing work at Turning Point Academy, Miss T. of Promise Youth, Shawn Corbett, Cops and Barbers and also Big Red over on the west side. You got people doing this work that we know works, but they're having to either pay by pocket or, you know, beg, borrow and steal to get the money when money already exists, that can be invested in these people for the long term.

I know the city's putting a half million now. Last year was $50,000. This year's $500,000 toward investment in nonprofits, which is good. I just see us needing to work also with the county. They have funding as well through grants and that money is the money I'm talking about. That should not just be focused on determining the outcomes of police-community interactions, but also investing in breaking the cycle of violence that we're all trying to work towards. These young nonprofits that I mentioned, fledgling nonprofits should be funded for a couple of years at a time so they can sustain and do the work instead of worrying about begging for money to support work that we all continue to say we want.

Glenn: Well, let's shift gears and talk about when you leave. Any updates on what's going to happen with your retirement? And do you plan to be here for the RNC (Republican National Convention)? 

[Related: State Treasurer Says His View On CMPD Chief's Retirement Has 'Absolutely Not' Changed]

Putney: I do not intend to move. So, yeah, I plan to be here in some capacity. Whether or not I'll retire is going to be up to the state at this point. Unfortunately, it's come to the level of me having to engage the state for retirement to really clarify the future. Unfortunately, it came to that. But what I'm doing now is waiting to hear from the state on whether or not that retirement can come to fruition. And then I'll plan what I do and what capacity I'll do it in when that decision is made. So no updates at this point. I'm just waiting on word from the state and then I'll plan accordingly. 

Glenn: And if they say it can't happen, would you still try to work something out where you're here for the convention? 

Putney: Well, I tried to work things out already. That's what led me now to engage with the state. So I'm going to first see what that decision is and then I’ll adjust. I really am not going to try to play the guessing game. I've been doing that for well over a year.

Glenn: Some have asked in terms of your being here for that convention. Do you feel if you're not here, do you feel confident that there are those who can step in your shoes in terms of that? 

Putney: I've got big feet. So, again, I'm not going to try to guess. I do know I have every confidence in the team that we've put together as long as we're together. We're going to be in good shape. I have every confidence and I'll tell you that without blinking, I know that. But how it all plays out is out of my hands and yet to be determined. 

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.