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Seeking Safety: Fayetteville police chief sees Charlotte as model for crime-fighting

Posted March 30, 2014

Willie Clark, left, detained while police search his home on Link Street in Fayetteville. Clark was charged with possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver marijuana and maintaining a dwelling for storing drugs. March 11, 2014. Photo by James Robinson of The Fayetteville Observer.
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— Harold Medlock doesn’t even blink at the number.

A year into his job as Fayetteville’s police chief, Medlock estimates it will take 10 years to get community policing deeply rooted in a city that considers crime its biggest problem.

“To truly mature as an organization and a community — it’s not just the police department — you are talking about a long-term deal,” Medlock said. “Does that mean we have to wait to reduce crime or improve quality of life? No.”

Medlock envisions a time when neighborhoods work hand in hand with police to help solve crimes and police combine their efforts with city departments and community organizations to battle blight.

He envisions officers who have embraced a sense of urgency, who understand that behind every crime statistic lies a crime victim.

More than anything, Medlock envisions a city that no longer considers crime its biggest problem.

But to reach that vision, Medlock knows that he has to change a culture of distrust in poor and crime-ridden neighborhoods — and the culture and mentality of his own police force.

Those cultural changes have been taking place in Charlotte since the 1980s, when Medlock was a young cop on the beat. Medlock rose through the ranks, becoming a sergeant, a captain, a major and a deputy chief before leaving Charlotte for Fayetteville early last year.

Today, Charlotte is recognized as a national model for community policing.

Statistics from the State Bureau of Investigation show that over 10 years, from 2003 through 2012, violent crime in Charlotte dropped by 27 percent and property crime by 26 percent.

In that same time frame, violent crime in Fayetteville fell by 3 percent and property crime rose by 36 percent.

Crime problems have not vanished. Charlotte police patrol not just the city, but all of Mecklenburg County. The county’s violent crime rate — the number of victims per 100,000 residents — was slightly higher than Cumberland County’s in 2012.

The difference is that violent crime in Mecklenburg County has been on a large and steady decline while violent crime in Cumberland County has remained relatively unchanged and property crime has surged.

Medlock has no doubt that community policing, a philosophy that he said took Charlotte 15 years to fully embrace, is behind the large reduction in the crime rate.

“It’s about people and it’s about relationships,” Medlock said. “It’s about changing the mindset of cops. It’s about changing the mindset of neighbors and making everybody understand that they have got their piece of the overall responsibility in it.”

The Fayetteville Observer traveled to Charlotte this month as part of “Seeking Safety,” a yearlong project that examines potential solutions to Fayetteville’s crime problems.

In Charlotte, community policing has become so entrenched that police rarely use the term anymore.

“Right now, we just call it police work,” Capt. Allan Rutledge Jr. said. “It’s just a way that we do business.”

Community policing transforms Charlotte

In the mid-1990s, Sgt. Harold Medlock was assigned to work in some of Charlotte’s toughest neighborhoods.

Medlock and two young officers who worked for him, Tonya Arrington and Rutledge, remember those days well. They are hard to forget.

Much like Fayetteville today, Charlotte was dealing with racial tensions after a series of police shootings involving white officers and black residents. Tensions reached a boiling point in 1996 when a white officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

Against that backdrop, then-Charlotte Police Chief Dennis Nowicki adopted a community-oriented policing approach.

That approach meant that weekends often found Medlock, Rutledge and Arrington attending police-sponsored neighborhood outings. They hauled a barbecue grill behind a patrol car and became, as Arrington put it, “hamburger flippers.”

They took troubled children on field trips, visited the elderly, helped Habitat for Humanity build houses and joined with the Charlotte Hornets to refurbish basketball courts at public housing.

Medlock said it was not unusual for him to replace his holster with a tool belt.

“Harold had a tough job. He had to lead a bunch of cops whose job was to gain the community trust,” Rutledge said. “Harold was very passionate about it, so if you did something he didn’t like, he let you know about it. If you did something well, he praised you for it.”

In those early days, Medlock said, a lot of the police department’s leadership had not bought into the community policing philosophy. As they saw it, the job of cops was to arrest the bad guys. To them, community policing was soft on crime.

“Leadership just paid it lip service,” Medlock said. “It was really the sergeants that were doing the work and understood it.”

Eventually, Arrington and Rutledge said, people in crime-ridden neighborhoods — people who had long viewed cops with suspicion and fear — began to trust the police. Many formed community watch groups and took the lead in telling police where crime was occurring and who was committing it.

In those early days, police led the community watch meetings. Now, the residents lead them.

“When I go to a meeting now, I’m on their agenda, which is where we want our communities to be,” said Arrington, who is a lieutenant now. She preaches the virtues of community policing and problem solving in much the same manner that Medlock taught her.

Arrington said she has four officers working as community coordinators in her division. The coordinators serve as liaisons between neighborhoods and the police department.

She said all of her officers work closely with city code enforcement officials to report problem houses, junk vehicles, trash, overgrown lots and other evidence of blight that can breed crime.

“They have code enforcement on speed dial,” Arrington said.

The transformation to community policing in Charlotte has been incremental but sustained through two decades and three police chiefs.

When Darrell Stephens took over from Nowicki in 1999, he introduced what is known as a community problem-oriented policing approach, using crime data and surveillance to identify recurring crime trends and addressing them quickly by working with neighborhoods to find solutions. To create a cultural shift in the department, Stephens restructured training to include community policing techniques.

Rodney Monroe took over as chief in 2008, embracing the tactics put in place by his predecessors and expanding a policing model that relies on collecting crime data and acting on it quickly.

“I think policing has just developed,” said Rutledge, who is now a captain. “It went from what it was to what it is today. We still have the community trust. We still go to the community meetings, and they still rely heavily on us. But now the communities are empowered to lead that charge. We are part of the solution.”

What sets the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department apart today is its sense of urgency, Rutledge said.

For example, he said, if a car is broken into in Arrington’s division, she is going to know about it almost immediately and respond aggressively.
Part of the reason for that is Arrington will be held accountable. When one car break-in occurs, chances are there will be more in the same area. Arrington is responsible for stopping the criminals before the next break-in can happen.

Rutledge said Monroe is adamant that officers respond quickly and effectively.

“The numbers that we look at are not numbers,” he said. “There are people attached to those numbers. The victims are attached to those numbers.”

Community policing did not cause Charlotte’s crime rate to fall overnight.

In 2005, the city was considered one of the country’s 10 most dangerous places to live. But under Monroe, the crime rate dropped 28 percent between 2008 and 2010, dropping Charlotte out of the top 100 most crime-ridden cities, according to a study by Yale Law School released in January.

The study took an extensive look at five cities that have built trust and collaboration in communities. Those cities include Charlotte and High Point, which was featured in a “Seeking Safety” story in December.

“For over two decades,” the study found, “the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has worked to build trust and engage in collaboration with all of its residents, including residents of disadvantaged communities.

“While the department still has room for growth, citizens and civil rights leaders alike report marked improvements in their interactions with the department over the last 10 to 20 years. In a Southern city where racial tensions run deep, this is no small feat.”

Fayetteville is 'in a good place'

Unlike Medlock’s early years in Charlotte, Fayetteville does not have to start from the ground up. Police recruits today are routinely taught community policing in college, and Fayetteville has more than 100 community watch groups.

“I think we are in a very good place,” Medlock said.

But he knows that more needs to be done to build relationships between police and residents.

Two neighborhoods in different parts of the city illustrate the divide and the difficulties. One is the B Street community near downtown.

Gena Johnson, the neighborhood’s community watch coordinator, said in January that she was so distraught by recent turnouts at community watch meetings that she was considering disbanding the group. Only two residents showed up at a meeting in November.

Johnson was also upset because she didn’t think police were paying enough attention to her neighborhood. She said she could not name a single officer who patrols her streets.

“We are being forgotten,” she said.

Johnson’s complaints made their way to Medlock, whose own concerns led him to attend the neighborhood’s community watch meeting in February. Fourteen residents showed up, some after learning that the chief would be there.

For an hour, Medlock listened to the residents’ complaints, suggested improvements and vowed to do better.

“If we’re not accountable to one another, we’re not going to get anything done,” he told the group.

Despite the low turnout, Medlock said he was “extremely encouraged” by the meeting and the residents’ resolve.

Since then, police conducted a drug raid on two houses on Link Street in the neighborhood. The raid was planned long before the meeting, police said.

Loch Lomond is south of Fort Bragg, off Reilly Road. It is one of many neighborhoods that grew up in western Cumberland County to serve soldiers looking to buy a home off the growing post. But the neighborhood demographics have shifted, and now no one is willing to step up to run a community watch program.

Robin Williams said she served as an unofficial neighborhood coordinator in Loch Lomond until about three years ago, when she moved away because crime had become too bad.

Williams said she had lived in the Villas of Loch Lomond for about 10 years. In the early days, she said, the neighborhood was filled with soldiers and their families.

“It was awesome,” she said.

But when the wars after 9/11 started and soldiers deployed, she said, many of them rented out their homes. Some fell into foreclosure. Crime and blight increased, she said. Of the 113 homes sold in Loch Lomond since 2008, more than 20 percent were through foreclosure or bank sales, according to statistics provided by the appraisal firm of Tom J. Keith & Associates Inc.

Kathleen Ruppert, a crime prevention specialist, said police and the city worked together last April to provide a community fun day in Loch Lomond. Hundreds of people came for the free food and games. Police and the city provided information on ways to prevent crime and to take full advantage of public services.

But when the event ended, Ruppert said, she still couldn’t get a single resident to help put a community watch group together, despite the rising crime and tensions in the neighborhood.

In October, Officer Christopher Hunt found himself surrounded by a dozen or more angry people while responding to a domestic violence call in Loch Lomond. The confrontation escalated, and Hunt shot and killed a 16-year-old black youth. Police said the teenager, Shaqur McNair, was pulling a gun from his waistband when he was shot.

Hunt remains on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.

A month later, at a “Stop the Violence” rally organized by black preachers, members of Shaqur’s family showed up sporting T-shirts bearing his picture. They agreed the violence must stop, but it was clear they blamed the police department for Shaqur’s death.

Shaqur was one of four black people shot in confrontations with Fayetteville police last year.

Tensions between black Fayetteville residents and police have simmered for generations.

In the late 1990s, the problems escalated when three black police officers alleged they were being treated unfairly because of their race. A civil rights lawyer hired by the city to investigate found no evidence of racism but agreed that then-Police Chief Ron Hansen had retaliated against the officers because they accused the department of discrimination. Hansen and the city manager ultimately lost their jobs over the issue.

Tempers flared again beginning in 2011 when a community group raised questions about racial disparities in searches during traffic stops. An Observer analysis found that nearly 75 percent of all such searches involved black motorists. Police denied accusations of racial profiling, and an independent review was unable to document any wrongdoing. But the strife led eventually to the resignation of Police Chief Tom Bergamine.

Medlock said he does not think Fayetteville residents are any more distrustful than people anywhere else, but he acknowledges that tensions over the consent search issue linger. (The number of consent searches has fallen dramatically, from 920 in 2011 to 59 last year.)

“I sense that everyone needs to get beyond that, and I sense that everyone is trying to get beyond that,” Medlock said. “I think the cops are trying to get beyond that and the citizens are trying to get beyond that, but I think, organizationally, the department still has work to do.”

Getting everyone on board

Surveys conducted in Charlotte and Fayetteville point to the different perceptions residents have of police in each city.

Charlotte’s survey in 2011 showed that 68 percent of minorities approved of the job police were doing, and 80 percent of whites approved.

{{a href="document_1"}}Fayetteville’s survey{{/a}} did not break down respondents by race. But the overall number of 54 percent who “felt that Fayetteville Police Department employees perform their duties in a competent manner” indicated less satisfaction than in Charlotte. The Fayetteville survey was taken between 2011 and 2013.


Community policing is not a new concept in Fayetteville. Tom McCarthy touted its virtues when he became police chief in 2001.

Medlock and McCarthy, who died in 2009, were close friends. Medlock held up his phone, saying he cannot bear to erase McCarthy from his list of contacts. Medlock called McCarthy a mentor who helped teach him community policing from the ground up.

“That guy got it; he understood it,” Medlock said.

All of which begs the question: If McCarthy couldn’t get police and the city to embrace community policing, what makes Medlock think he can?

Medlock said McCarthy — who served as chief from 2001 until 2007 — was not given enough time or support.

He paused for a long moment to contemplate the next question: “Do you have enough support?”

“I think I have enough support,” he said. “I have some officers and sergeants that have bought into it in a huge way. I have nine sector lieutenants who are eating this up, and a lot of other command staff that are embracing what we’re trying to do.

“But I also know I have those folks who are resistant, overtly and covertly. ... I have to ID the ones who are on board, those who get it and will work for it.”

Sgt. Eddie Ketchum and Officer Harrison Combs said they are on board. So did Lt. Dan Belden.

They say community policing is nothing new in Fayetteville. They have been doing it for years. They also say each police chief since McCarthy has brought community policing a step further in the process.

“Chief Bergamine was getting down this road, Chief (Katherine) Bryant definitely was pushing the train a little harder and Chief Medlock just put the accelerator to the floor on it and said we are not going to continue the way we have in the past,” Belden said. “We are going to go in a new direction.”


That new direction in the police department became apparent soon after Medlock arrived. He carved two police districts into three and named lieutenants to each of nine patrol sectors so they can better get to know and respond to people in their areas. He holds weekly focus meetings, where crime is analyzed in each of the sectors and the lieutenants are held accountable for seeing that it is stopped.

Medlock shows up regularly at community watch meetings and other community functions. Last week, he was among a group of police and city workers who spread dirt at 78-year-old Annie Swinson’s home on Moore Street. Medlock said Swinson’s lawn will be reseeded as part of Fayetteville Urban Ministry’s housing rehabilitation program for low-income people.

Medlock said he hopes the police involvement helps grow more than grass.

“This is gold here,” he said. “For the neighborhood, for her, for us. It just changes people’s whole impression of us.”

Last month, Medlock asked the City Council for 68 more positions, mostly sworn officers, saying his department is so understaffed that cops have little time to do anything but respond to calls. That makes it difficult to devote resources to the interaction that community policing requires.

Medlock has pushed several innovations. Some inmates released on bail while awaiting trial are now being required to wear ankle monitoring bracelets. Medlock is putting surveillance cameras in high crime areas, and he wants to equip police cars with license plate readers that read plates of parked and moving cars to compare them against vehicle databases.

The technological and organizational changes have come swiftly. Changing the hearts and minds of some of Medlock’s officers — and the city’s residents — could take much longer.

But crime statistics show that progress is being made. More than 700 fewer home break-ins were reported last year than in 2012. Violent crime for the first two months of this year has fallen nearly 13 percent from the same period in 2013, and property crime has decreased 18 percent. Medlock said he expects the city will sustain a double-digit reduction in crime throughout the year.

“I think we are well on our way to getting a better handle on crime than we have ever had since I’ve been here,” said Belden, the police lieutenant.

In Cliffdale West, longtime community watch coordinator Marion Garvin praised Medlock for his community policing approach, saying residents are more familiar with the officers who patrol their neighborhood. As a result, he said, police response times have been reduced.

Garvin said the work his group is doing can be measured by a significant drop in calls to police. Criminals know they are being watched, he said.

Ben Parker took over as Lafayette Village’s community watch coordinator about seven months ago. At that time, Parker said, the group had six members. Now, he said, it has 40. He hopes to have 80 by the end of the year.

“There are a lot of people over here that really take care of their property and they are proud of it and they have raised their families here,” Parker said. “I don’t think they should be forgotten.”

Belden said Medlock’s biggest push has been to get neighborhoods to understand that police are there to serve and protect, and for neighbors to understand that they play a significant role in helping to reduce crime.

“He has made that abundantly clear,” Belden said. “I think that’s the message he is trying to bring along with the community, to try to get everybody on the same sheet of music.

“There is no two ways, we’re not there yet, but we are definitely going down the right path.”

Staff writer Greg Barnes can be reached at 486-3525 or barnesg@fayobserver.com.


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  • disgusted2010 Mar 31, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I, for one, would like an explanation of your allegations of politicians getting rich from creating criminals. The logic of this totally eludes me.

  • less_govt_is_better_govt Mar 31, 2014

    They also have a citizen review board in Charlotte. Citizens get some say in the disciplinary process.

    This would would never work in wake county, the blue wall is too thick and too many politicians depend on the money they get from creating criminals. (Kind of like Charlotte's former mayor lol)

  • ncpilot2 Mar 31, 2014

    I guess he did not include Charlotte City Hall in his assessment of "model crime-fighting."

  • Robert Malton Mar 31, 2014
    user avatar

    He also want to raise property taxes to hire more officer. Why not have a city tax to paid for thing, then everyone pays.

  • A person Mar 31, 2014

    Is that the same Charlotte who's mayor was just charged with federal corruption charges??? Where is Rev Barber taking "action" on this??? Is he not interested in anything other than hand-outs that we can not and will not afford anymore??

  • pappy1 Mar 31, 2014

    Just don't have them use the former Mayor of Charlotte as a model for governance.

  • nctorwart Mar 31, 2014

    Sounds like a great oppurtunity for the NAACP to step up and lead their community instead of crying about how violent offenders are targeted by race. Get out there and be a liasion between the Police and the Neighborhoods.