CHARLOTTE — Channel 9 was the first to break the news that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department will no longer charge people for violating city ordinances after a new state law decriminalized many of them.
City ordinances include playing loud music, panhandling, littering, trespassing, curfews, animal abuse and more. CMPD has instructed officers to not arrest or charge anyone criminally for a violation of a city ordinance until further notice.
In an email obtained by Channel 9, Deputy Chief Steven Brochu said the new policy is due to a change in state law.
In September, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a new law decriminalizing some city ordinances. The new state law applies to all local governments. That prompted a review process for all communities to determine which ordinances will still have criminal penalties.
The city of Charlotte hasn’t finished its review process yet, so as of Dec. 1, none are enforceable.
“We are reviewing our city ordinances to determine which ones should remain with criminal penalties,” city officials said in a statement.
City leaders said in a memo to CMPD they are hopeful to have the issue before the City Council during the beginning of 2022.
“I knew about it, not only because I took part in the governor’s taskforce, but I watch the news and read the papers,” activist Robert Dawkins said.
Dawkins said he is overall supportive of the change but wonders why it didn’t happen weeks ago.
“We are for, the fact, that it has been decriminalized. We don’t understand how everybody else but city council knew it was decriminalized,” Dawkins said.
It is still unclear why the city waited so long to conduct a review of the ordinances.
City council members appeared to have been left in the dark about the change and many told Channel 9 they had no idea this had taken place. When reporter Joe Bruno texted several of them Thursday night for comment, one responded: “Is this real?”
“The first time I really heard about this as a law that had any actual impact on the city of Charlotte and what the staff is actually doing, was from your tweet, so congratulations on that,” Councilman Tariq Bokhari told reporter Joe Bruno.
A city spokesperson said CMPD will still respond to the public’s calls for help for things like noise complaints and try to work with people on complying without enforcement.
“When CMPD is forced to rightly say, ‘Don’t do this, or we are in violation of state law,’” Bokhari said. “We didn’t have our eggs in a row, and we’ve got to fix that.”
CMPD is still enforcing violations of state and federal laws.
City and CMPD attorneys are meeting to determine which ordinances will remain as crimes.
Before Cooper passed the law, Charlotte had a default provision in its code of ordinances that generally designated many of them to be enforced criminally, city attorney Patrick Baker wrote in an email to the council and mayor.
“Since passage of the law in September, this office has been working with the administration to assist in determining which ordinances should continue to be enforced through criminal penalties,” Baker’s email read. “We expect to bring that list to council in mid-to-late January for council’s consideration. We are currently reviewing the entirety of the city code of ordinances. A public hearing is required before the council can take action on the matter.”
Baker said that many of the city’s ordinances that are enforced criminally already have corresponding state and federal laws.
Those city violations usually have penalties of up to 30 days in jail after a conviction.
CMPD retains full criminal authority to enforce all state and federal law violations, which includes all felonies, he said.
Baker also said that CMPD typically cites state or federal laws when charging offenders and will continue to do so.
“All Charlotte city code violations remain subject to civil enforcement,” Baker said.
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