FOP responds to City Council’s ‘knee-jerk’ vote on chemical agents

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte City Council took steps Monday night to change the way CMPD deals with crowds, and now the Fraternal Order of Police has responded, saying they are “disappointed” and “disturbed” by the council’s actions.

Monday night, in a 9-2 vote, the council decided it will stop paying for the police department’s stockpile of chemical agents for crowd control for one fiscal year. They will also be closely watching all of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s spending and policies.

Councilmembers said this is just the beginning.

The decision comes after video appears to show officers boxing in hundreds of protesters on Fourth Street last week before bombarding them with tear gas, pepper balls and flash bangs.

The incident is what prompted Councilman Braxton Winston to push for a one year ban on the purchase of chemical agents used for crowd dispersal and control.

“By banning the purchase of chemical agents for crowd control and dispersal for one year, the city council is diving into the minutia of this budget, dictating what it can, and cannot be used for,” Winston said.

As the meeting took place, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Government Center calling for CMPD to be defunded. Stopping the funding of chemical agents is a big action, but for some perspective here’s how it compares to the rest of the budget:

  • Charlotte’s budget is $2.55 billion
  • The General Fund is $719 million
  • CMPD’s budget is $290.2 million, which is 40% of the General Fund
  • $103,000 was used on chemical agents in last year’s budget -- that’s .03% of CMPD’s budget for this year and .004% of this year’s overall budget

Council rarely flexes their muscle in this capacity, but leaders said they hear the demands of protesters and are committed to making changes. Some councilmembers view the decision as a start for trust to be restored between police and residents in the long run.

“I think we have to be intentional about the purchases we make and the purpose they are used. Until the response is improved we will not be able to improve the trust with our residents,” councilwoman Dimple Ajmera said.

Council’s two Republicans, Ed Driggs and Tariq Bokhari, voted against the measure. Both said they feel the decision was rushed. Bokhari views it as something council is doing to police and not with police.

“Officers are having serious conversations right now about not showing up to work. Our words and our actions and their impact on morale are very, very real,” Bokhari said.

CMPD declined to say how much chemical agents remain in their stockpile. Chief Kerr Putney has previously said that without chemical agents, officers would have to use physical force, which he doesn’t want to do.

Winston said that isn’t acceptable. The councilman also acknowledged that many will view the decision as not enough.

“People who have been working on police reform and abolition will immediately recognize that tonight’s action doesn’t do enough to end the systemic failures of policing in America and Charlotte. They would be correct to call this out,” Winston said.

Robert Dawkins is with Action NC, a group that has been fighting for police reform for many years. He favor’s defunding the police.

“People get two terms confused. They get defund the police mixed up with abolishing the police. It’s two separate things," Dawkins said.

Dawkins said by defunding, he means take some of the responsibility that officers have now and push them out to the community, such as responding to domestic violence calls.

“Then you wouldn’t be exposing police who aren’t trained. Maybe they took a couple of months here, but I’d rather have a person that has a master’s degree in defusing a situation over a police officer," Dawkins said.

He believes that if officers didn’t have to deal with mental health situations, substance abuse situations and a lot of social work, their footprint could be lowered in troubled neighborhoods.

“They are already suffering from high violence, have no trust in the police and would talk to a psychiatrist, a mental health professional before them,” Dawkins said.

The decision does not mean CMPD cannot use chemical agents, they just cannot purchase them for a year.

The Fraternal Order of Police responded to the council’s decision by asking, “What will officers use to protect businesses and your homes from getting destroyed? As rocks and explosives are hurdled at them, what measures do the police in Charlotte now have to defend themselves?”

The FOP said the changes could lead to serious injuries and even death.

They said that they were aware that the issue of chemical munitions was going to be discussed at the meeting, but they’re upset because they didn’t have a seat at the table.

“By making knee-jerk reactions by taking items, such as defunding chemical munitions to a vote without even consulting the other side to understand why they are in place and what the alternative could be, is extremely reckless," said Chris Kopp, with FOP.

On Thursday, the FOP released the following statement:

After watching the virtual City of Charlotte Council meeting on 6-8-2020 the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #9 was torn with what occurred that evening.

On one hand we are appreciative that the budget was adopted securing the recommended salary and benefits for CMPD. On the other hand, we are extremely disappointed with the substitute motion Councilman Winston made that no budgeted funds be used to purchase or maintain chemical agents for use in crowd control or dispersing crowds for the upcoming fiscal year.

As we have stated before and will continue to in the future, chemical agents are an effective non-lethal tool to aid in the dispersing of crowds.

CMPD has been dealt a hand by Charlotte City Council where an effective and necessary tool has been removed. What City Council has done without debate or input from all parties involved is create a very serious problem with no solutions. CMPD has been told to do without an effective tool and figure out a different way of doing business that will suffice to Council (whatever that may be).

The council's knee-jerk reaction in approving Councilman Winston's motion will further demoralize CMPD officers and add to the difficulties the CMPD has experienced for several years in recruiting and retaining police officers. Many may not care and say "move on and figure it out". "That's what you get paid to do". Well, that's exactly what we will do as we have done in the past.

Additionally, and we pray that it never happens, the lack of this tool as a non-lethal option in the future may result in serious injuries or deaths to officers and/or citizens and the increased destruction of property. Should this occur, the responsibility and liability will rest solely on the shoulders of the City Council members who voted in favor of the motion.

We are disheartened that we do not have the support of the City Council. Only Council members Bokhari and Driggs felt the need to speak up on our behalf and look at an issue from both sides before making a hasty decision. We are disturbed by the talk of defunding/disbanding police agencies. Our professional opinion is that defunding CMPD could very well further compromise the safety of our community and officers. Councilman Driggs said it exactly right. Your motion took a “gratuitous dig at police”.

Councilman Winston, your additional comments following the motion shows us how much of an uphill battle we have with the City Council and how much prejudice you have against the police. To say that the systemic failures of policing in America and Charlotte are embedded on racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and the reduction of human nature to a binary enrages every law enforcement officer because you have labeled ALL of us as failures and automatically placed us into all those categories simply because we are law enforcement officers. How would you feel if we were to say that at the core of every politician is the drive to be corrupt, manipulative, and power-hungry?

Keep this in mind as well. When you use the label CMPD it also includes non-sworn employees and families of those employees. They too are affected by your words and feel the same frustrations as uniformed officers.

The defunding of the CMPD is something that could be worked on for sure, but your comments are one that furthers an "us versus them" mentality. Rather than working to bridge the gap of distrust between the community and the police your words are widening the gap. In a time when recruitment and retention of qualified law enforcement officers is getting more and more difficult, your comments and actions are making it near impossible.

CMPD is not sitting back on its heels hoping for things to turn out for the better. CMPD continuously implements programs, training, directives, procedures, and protocols to ensure we are doing what we can to best serve the citizens of Charlotte and to have a first rate police department.

Councilman Winston, your comment further erodes the morale of CMPD members and makes them wonder why in the world they would want to commit thirty years of their life for this. Most officers do the right thing day in and day out and want to be appreciated and respected. Just as you do not want to be judged based on the actions of a few bad politicians, they do not want to be judged by the actions of a few bad police officers.