Charlotte-Mecklenburg police on Tuesday sent a message to their bosses: When it comes to police work, sometimes the customer is not always right.
In a statement Tuesday, the union representing local officers pushed back on a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department decision to hire a customer-service consultant to improve interactions with the public.
Chief Johnny Jennings told the Observer in an interview last week that CMPD would pay The DiJulius Group $60,000 to help his department address a nationwide loss of public trust.
Company founder John DiJulius said in a statement Friday that he was excited to be part of Jennings’ “incredible vision at revolutionizing policing.”
However, some of the officers who will be trained late summer in the techniques of the company’s “customer-service revolution” sounded a far different note Tuesday.
In its statement, the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police said Jennings and CMPD are wasting money that would be better spent on officer morale, retention and hiring, and other pressing internal issues.
“Furthermore, the DiJulius Group, while a company with substantial experience, has never worked with a police department. We fear they will make changes that are not concurrent with the law, putting officers and the community at risk,” the statement said.
“… Unfortunately, cordial engagement during an arrest is not likely to be reciprocated. When it comes to compliance with the law, the ‘customer’ is not always right.”
In response, police spokesman Rob Tufano said in an email to the Observer that CMPD’s development of a “world-class customer service approach to policing” will benefit both the community and “every member of the department.”
FOP members will help develop the training curriculum, which will be taught solely by CMPD officers, Tufano said.
The public rift between Jennings and his rank and file comes as the country continues to debate how police officers use deadly force, particularly against minority communities.
Last Wednesday, a former Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murder in the killing of George Floyd, whose death in May set off angry but mostly peaceful protests in Charlotte and around the country.
Within hours of that verdict, the attention of North Carolina and much of the nation had swiveled east to Elizabeth City, where officers fatally shot Andrew Brown during the serving of a warrant. Witnesses said Brown was unarmed at the time and attempting to leave the scene in his car.
On Friday, a new Washington Post-ABC poll found that 6 in 10 Americans say the country should do more to hold police accountable for mistreating Black people, despite how those measures interfere with how officers do their jobs.
The level of concern represents a slight drop from the height of the Floyd protests last summer. But it remains at its highest level since 1988, The Post reported.
“All you have to do is turn on the TV or read the newspaper,” Jennings said in his Observer interview Thursday. “Trust is at a very low level, the lowest I’ve seen in my 29-year career.”
According to the FOP statement, public trust is only one of the issues now facing North Carolina’s largest law enforcement agency, and that the money earmarked for customer training should be spent on internal needs such as morale, retention and officer health and safety.
In the last months, according to the statement, 26 officers have voluntarily resigned.
“At this rate, CMPD is losing more officers than it can replace and its ability to respond to emergencies suffers as a result. Retaining talented officers within the department is just as important as providing training when it comes to achieving positive outcomes in our community.”
Prominent Charlotte attorney George Laughrun, who frequently represents police in criminal and internal matters, said the low morale at CMPD may be affecting police work.
“I can’t tell you when’s the last time Charlotte had a DUI stop. People sure haven’t stopped drinking,” said Laughrun, who has practiced law in Charlotte for 40 years. “There’s not a whole lot of proactive police work going on right now. And the bad guys know what’s going on. ”
On its website the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter says it represents more than 2,000 municipal, state and federal law enforcement officers around Mecklenburg County.
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