CHARLOTTE — Everyone wants a community where they feel safe, and many count on law enforcement to help make that happen.
A national research nonprofit found most police departments are facing a workforce crisis. In the 90s, a wave of federal money funded a mass hiring of officers. Now, the majority of them are retiring, and fewer people than ever are signing up.
#WATCH Today at 5, my report takes— Erica Bryant (@EricaWSOC9) January 26, 2023
a look inside @CMPD and explains how the department is working to get more officers to keep our neighborhoods safer. Turn to Channel 9 @wsoctv pic.twitter.com/TzFaXO7kQL
Officer Kelvin Moore has devoted his life to law enforcement. He told Channel 9′s Erica Bryant that he started right out of college. But a few years later, a horrible crime hit home.
“In August 2015, Mashai was was shot and killed at home in Elizabeth City,” Moore said. “He was 18 years old, and he was my younger brother.”
Devastated, he left the job for a while. Then, he returned with more empathy for victims facing tragedy.
“So having lived through that myself, I found that in those circumstances, I’ve taken the time to deal with families going through this -- to speak to them, hear them, even if it’s just to let them cry to you,” Moore said.
His story is a reminder that police are real people, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department desperately needs more to join the force. The department has about 300 open positions.
This comes as the latest numbers show some crimes are on the rise. According to CMPD’s 2022 end-of-year report:
- Homicides are up 10% from 2021
- Robberies are up 2% from 2021
- And vehicle thefts are up 20% from 2021
At the same time, a wave of officers is retiring or leaving the profession. The department said roughly 400 officers left in the past three years, and a changing climate is impacting the ability to recruit.
“What happened in the summer of 2020, as well as the politics of our world and divisiveness. And it’s a very challenging time,” CMPD Maj. Brad Koch told Bryant.
Koch just transitioned to the training academy. He joined the force in 1997.
“When I started, we didn’t have body-worn camera,” Koch said. “Cell phones didn’t exist. So now, every interaction that people have, they’re essentially starring in a movie.”
So the department is getting creative, in part with a campaign called “What’s your why?” It’s highlighting purpose-driven reasons to come on board and boosting pay.
“In July, we had a 9% increase in salary,” Koch said. “There was a $7,000 to $7,500 signing bonus that we started that we rolled out in the spring.”
Recruits who speak different languages or who work second or third shift can earn even more.
Officer Moore pointed to benefits beyond the money.
“We speak a lot about representation and why it matters, and I think that it does,” Moore said. “And I’ve seen this myself, as a civilian and officer as well, oftentimes that connections can be made when the officers who respond look a lot like you do.”
He said anyone who really wants to make a difference should consider policing.
“A lot of people talk. I wanted to put my money where my mouth was and actually get involved,” Moore said. “Anybody who thinks that they want to see a change -- sometimes you have to be that change.”
Push to recruit more women
Bryant found out the department has a specific goal to hire more women.
Officer Mackenzie Dziendziel has been on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police force for five years. As a criminal justice major in college, she chose the path after a ride-along with CMPD.
VIDEO: CMPD pledges to increase number of women in its ranks
“I saw the way he interacted with the community, he knew a lot of his people in his beat. And that was really meaningful and impactful to me,” she said. “Originally, I had planned on going into the military, and then decided to serve here locally.”
CMPD’s recruiting plan is focused on diversity. The department has joined the 30×30 Initiative -- a pledge to increase the number of women in the ranks to 30% by the year 2030. Right now, it’s at 16%.
“It’s important for our department to be reflective of our community,” Maj. Koch said. “And that starts with not only the chief of police, but all the way down to our officers.”
Dziendziel said that can make a big difference, especially in certain cases.
“Even though there is a connection that my male counterparts can make with some of these female victims that we have out here, sometimes, it just takes that woman-to-woman interaction to get them to open up,” Dziendziel said.
Recent numbers show overall crime was up 3% in 2022 compared to 2021. Current officers are calling on more people to really step up and join them by accepting the challenge to keep our community safer.
“I was a college athlete, I thought that I was prepared for the Academy when it came to the physicality portion of it. Even when you feel overly prepared, you’re probably a little bit underprepared,” she said. “So definitely, definitely take the PT portion very seriously because they will test your limits and it’s a fun ride.”
Bryant also asked if the current staff shortage impacts the department’s ability to respond to calls for service. She was told that it doesn’t have a direct impact. A spokesperson wrote, “We will always prioritize calls based on the urgency and needs of the community.”
CMPD also wants to recruit more bilingual officers. You can find out more about that effort by watching Bryant’s story on Telemundo Charlotte.
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(WATCH BELOW: City hires Canadian company to help recruit vacant positions at CMPD)
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