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New Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Jennings: 'It's an exciting time'
Challenges and changes good for agency he says
Published Monday, June 29, 2020 7:19 pm
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

Incoming Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings supports moving some funding and responsibility, such as behavioral health intervention or minor traffic accidents to other agencies.

Johnny Jennings knows change is coming to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Jennings, who takes over as chief on July 1, said momentum is building nationally to change how law enforcement engages civilians after a series of fatal confrontations with unarmed people, especially African Americans. Rather than lament the inevitable, he’s looking forward to the agency’s evolution.

“It’s an exciting time to me,” said Jennings, who succeeds the retired Kerr Putney. “I know it's difficult to understand that for a lot of people, but we're looking at a situation now to where change is inevitable. To be able to be stepping in on the forefront of that change and to be able to say, ‘Hey, we're going to work with the community and these are the things that we're going to do to improve and get better,’ then it’s going to be my job to ensure that officers, all the way up to our ranking structure buy into it and they realize and they accept it and embrace that change and know that it’s to make us better it's not to do things to the police but it’s to work with us and to improve on how we serve the community.”

Jennings, who was promoted from deputy chief, sees the focus on use of force and tactics on a federal level as a sign that changes are coming. Congress is split along partisan lines on tougher standards for accountability, with House Democrats supporting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which ban practices like chokeholds and racial profiling while holding law enforcement accountable for overzealous violence against civilians with prosecution. Senate Republicans crafted the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere, or JUSTICE Act, which backers say focuses on reform, accountability, and transparency. Regardless of what is signed into law, it’ll impact local departments.

“Of course, it affects us in Charlotte,” Jennings said. “However, my, my goal is what are we going to do to make Charlotte better and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department better and to serve our community better. People need to understand, too, that we realize that we know we’re at a point to where we have to put things forward, are going to help us better serve the community, and we embrace that.”

Jennings who has been on the force since 1992, also supports moving funding from law enforcement to community uses such as behavioral health intervention – a position Putney has championed. Too often, Jennings maintains, law enforcement isn’t equipped to handle calls that could be better served by other agencies or a change in policy, such as responding to minor traffic accidents.

“People hear defunding the police,” he said, “I think there's a misunderstanding of that term. …Police are asked to do too much, and I think that's kind of been the narrative a little bit throughout the country. We’re social workers, we’re attorneys, were counselors. There are some things that we can start looking at that maybe we do because we realize it's a need in our communities that other places or other entities can take over and do that as well and bring some of that funding over.

“Now, what I will never agree on is if we put any of those initiatives that we do internally that we're successful in [for defunding], I want to make sure that integrity of that program is upheld. We have a vital interest in in the success of these programs. But if other agencies or other entities can do it better, then I’m open to talk about that.”

Between protests in the streets and political pressures to reform, Jennings is also responsible for morale in the ranks. He counsels officers that they’re members of the community and have a stake in accountability.

“When officers look at the mission that they have to protect and serve and keep the community safe, morale is great,” Jennings said. “They know they have a role to play this community and I think they they've been. They've been putting that forth and it's showing by example. We had during the riots and the protests officers working with no days off straight, and they were working 12-hour shifts. And I would go and talk with them and there was always a smile on their face, they always knew they had a job to do and they were willing to do it.

“At the same time, officers feel alienated in the sense that it seems to be stuff that’s being done to them rather than with them. They’re getting a sense of us against them. That's not healthy and I think that’s what we need to change. We need to realize that it’s not us against them, it's something that we have to come together and work and always improve.”



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