For five days in early September, the eyes of the world will turn to Charlotte as the 2012 Democratic National Convention comes to town. It’s perhaps the most significant national event to ever come to the Queen City, with over 35,000 delegates, government officials, celebrities, media, and demonstrators expected during the week of Labor Day.
With all of this attention comes a host of challenges, not the least of which is providing for public safety and convention security. Thousands of demonstrators are expected, and as the nominating convention for a sitting president and vice president, the DNC will require an even larger security apparatus than the Republican Convention being held the week before in Tampa.
The point man for security is Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney D. Monroe. For the last three and a half years under Chief Monroe’s leadership, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) has seen crime rates fall to their lowest levels in decades. Now with the DNC coming to town, Chief Monroe has a whole new responsibility before him—ensuring a safe and trouble-free convention.
Accountability and Community Involvement
A native of the Washington, D.C., area, Chief Monroe is a 34-year veteran of law enforcement. After becoming a police officer in 1979, he served for 21 years with the D.C. police force before moving on to become the chief of police in Macon, Ga. In February 2005 he was named chief in Richmond, Va., where he served until he was appointed chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in June 2008.
In the three and a half years Monroe has been in Charlotte, crime has dropped by over 30 percent to the lowest rate in more than 20 years. The improvement is across the board, with all categories —homicide, robbery, rape, auto theft, larceny, aggravated assault, arson, and burglary—showing significant decreases. By comparison, other large cities have seen decreases in the 4 to 8 percent range. CMPD also boasts an 88 percent closure rate on homicides, compared to a national average closure of only about 50 percent.
Chief Monroe credits the improvements to a more accountable organization, new technology, and a concerted effort to get local communities involved as the eyes of the police force.
“When I first came to Charlotte, I attended a number of neighborhood meetings where the same themes kept repeating themselves,” he recalls. “People felt they didn’t see enough police officers and they believed we had strayed from a focus on property crimes.
“While violent crimes often get the most attention, the most common crimes are the ones that affect people’s homes, business, and vehicles. I wanted to bring more focus to those crimes and get more personnel back onto the streets,” the Chief continues. “We looked at every assignment in the department, did a lot of restructuring, and were able to put 100 officers back into the community.”
Monroe points out that key to managing crime is being able to measure it. “You have to know where and when it is occurring and who is committing the crime,” he explains. “So we created a robust crime analysis capability so we could get in front of crime rather than just responding to it.”
The department now has a predictive crime analysis system utilizing up to seven years of crime data that allows police to pinpoint locations, times and even weather conditions where crime is most likely to occur. Resources are then be deployed to the right places at the right times.
Monroe also wanted a greater sense of accountability at the community level. “Police officers work shifts, so once your shift is over you tend to forget about what has gone on until you come back in,” admits the Chief. “But we wanted somebody to be responsible for every piece of real estate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
To accomplish this, Monroe created 39 response areas and designated a Response Area Commander for each. Each commander is like a mini-police chief and is responsible for his geographic area 24/7. Weekly review meetings and monthly planning sessions ensure that everyone stays results-oriented.
This community-based approach has allowed CMPD to engage the local communities and solve cases more successfully, something Monroe credits for the high closure rate on homicides. “No case happens in isolation; somebody knows something,” he says. “If you can gain the community’s confidence they will come forward with information, knowing that you’re going to act on it and get that person off the street.”
Communities also must become more involved themselves. “If you are a community that comes home, pulls into the garage, shuts the door, and then gets back in the car the next morning, you’re going to have problems,” he suggests. “But if you know who lives in your community, who belongs and who doesn’t belong, and you call the police when you see suspicious activity—that is a community where a criminal can’t come in and arbitrarily prey. Someone is going to say, ‘You don’t belong here.’”
Ensuring a Safe Convention
When Charlotte was chosen as the site for the 2012 Democratic Convention, some questioned whether a city with little experience hosting large national events could effectively manage the high level of security required. Chief Monroe says that’s not an issue for Charlotte.
“As soon as the announcement was made in February 2011, we began reaching out,” he explains. “We reached out to other agencies and to our counterparts in the cities that have hosted a convention recently. There are plenty of blueprints across the country to help us position ourselves to handle just about anything that comes about.”
One of the first orders of business was establishing an executive steering committee to oversee security led by CMPD and the Secret Service. Other participants include the FBI, the Fire Department, FEMA, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the State of N.C., and many more. There are also 21 subcommittees covering everything from air support, to civil disturbances, to logistics, and dignitary protection.
As the DNC host city, Charlotte is receiving a $50 million federal grant to defray the cost of convention security. The money is being used for equipment and technology purchases and will also fund several hundred additional police officers traveling from around the state and nation to supplement CMPD’s existing force.
“We’ll have officers from Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and many others,” says the Chief. “You’ll see a national flavor to law enforcement in Charlotte.” The state legislature provided CMPD a one-time waiver to allow out-of-state officers to be temporarily sworn as North Carolina Peace Officers. Additional resources from the Capitol Police, governors’ details, and the Secret Service will supplement the force.
The grant also funded the department’s $1.7 million command center that was completed late last year. The new center will operate 24/7 during the convention and will house representatives from all of the local, state and federal agencies involved in convention security. A wall of video screens provides access to hundreds of video surveillance cameras and the center is equipped with a sophisticated communications system, allowing resources to be monitored and dispatched directly from the command center.
“We’ll be able to communicate with all of our partners and we will have a very robust group of decision-makers so we can get decisions made or resources assigned,” explains Chief Monroe. “We will have those resources right at our fingertips.”
CMPD will purchase an undisclosed number of surveillance cameras, but existing cameras will play a major role in giving the command center its eyes. “We have hundreds of private cameras already in uptown,” explains Chief Monroe. “Technology is evolving so we’re focusing on trying to tie into those existing cameras and in some cases to even be able to control the cameras. We already have the ability to monitor CDOT, CATS and government building cameras, so now we’re just trying to tie all of that together.”
Unlike most political conventions, DNC 2012 will use three separate major venues—Time Warner Cable Arena, Bank of America Stadium, and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Security needs will inevitably cause disruptions near each venue, but through a combination of one-on-one meetings and a variety of community forums, Monroe’s team has been listening to concerns and keeping nearby businesses informed.
“Things are going to be different,” says Monroe. “Streets are going to be closed, some areas are going to have limited access, and people may have to go through security checkpoints to get to certain places.” The highest level of security will be for the venues themselves, continuing on out to perimeters for pedestrians and perimeters for vehicles. No specific details are being released until much closer to the convention.
Accommodating Peaceful Expression
Political conventions always attract a variety of demonstrators, and the Charlotte DNC 2012 will be no exception. Whether it is a small group wanting to stand on a street corner with signs or a group of thousands hoping to hold a more formal parade, Chief Monroe says the security team wants to accommodate all peaceful expression.
“Other than the secure perimeters established for each of the venues, every other part of the city is open for individuals to express their First Amendment rights,” he explains. “They can’t block the thoroughfares and they can’t block the sidewalks, but other than that, it’s an open environment.”
Larger groups will be able to schedule formal parades to present their point of view, and CMPD has already received at least 25 or 30 inquiries from such groups. They will soon be asked to register for specific dates/times.
“We’ll close the streets down for a specific route and we’ll provide them with a speaker’s platform so they can get up there and talk about whatever it is they want to talk about,” Monroe says.
The security team is preparing for groups of all sizes with new training on handling crowds and civil disturbances. “It may take one approach to handle a group of 500 people who just want to peacefully stand and hold signs,” explains Monroe. “It may take a very different strategy for a group of people who might want to try to do something a little more aggressive. In either case, we’re going to try to give the people the opportunity to express themselves, but we’ll also expect them to abide by the law and do things in a manner that does not cause harm or disruption to the convention.”
The Bank of America shareholders meeting last month attracted several hundred protesters to uptown, giving CMPD a preview of what to expect during the convention. The meeting was designated an “extraordinary event” under a new city statute enacted for the DNC, giving police expanded authority to ban certain items and search bags as needed. Protest groups such as Occupy Charlotte also say they plan to increase their visibility in the months leading up to the convention.
More Work to Do
Despite his success over the last three and a half years and the short-term focus on the DNC 2012, Chief Monroe believes more can be done to reduce crime.
“We need to do a better job expediting trials and we need more district attorneys, more judges, and more courtrooms to hold offenders accountable,” he says. “We need more police officers on the street and we need to do a better job with drug treatment because a lot of crimes still revolve around drugs. We also need more positive opportunities for our young people to counter the negative things they get involved with—drugs, gangs and guns. We have to continue to find ways to reach them.”
As each day brings it closer, Chief Monroe feels the scrutiny on the department and the mechanisms in place to ensure that Charlotte hosts a safe and orderly Democratic National Convention.
“I’m very comfortable that we have taken the necessary steps to be prepared,” he concludes. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I’m confident we’ll be ready to handle whatever comes our way.”