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Charlotte, N.C., chief asks for 70 new officers

Chief wants city to give him 70 new officers Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Darrel Stephens wants more -- more patrol officers, more detectives, more crime analysts.

Stephens requested 70 new officers and 23.5 new civilian positions for 2006-07, more than double his previous estimate. The police department's $6.2 million request would add neighborhood crime coordinators and direct officers to fast-growing areas such as northwest and southwest Charlotte.

Stephens said the new officers would help the department cope with population growth and an increasing amount of work.

Homicides soared in 2005 to 85, the most in 10 years. And through the first 11 months of the year, violent crime went up 10.3 percent, fueled by increases in robberies and rapes. Police will announce the complete year-end statistics today.

City leaders had expected a request from Stephens, but perhaps not one this big.

Last year, after five straight years without an increase, Stephens asked the City Council for 92 officers and 14.5 civilian positions over two years. City Manager Pam Syfert recommended a property-tax increase to pay for it, but the council said no.

Instead, after cuts to other departments, Stephens got 48 new officers and one civilian. He created an additional 14 patrol jobs by shutting down the DARE drug-education program. Many of this year's new officers are going to uptown and to the North Division, which includes University City and areas east of Cornelius and Huntersville. Next year's request would send officers to divisions that didn't get as much attention the first time around.

The big obstacle now is money. The council set aside nothing for new officers in 2006-07.

Now, after an election where council members campaigned on attacking crime, Stephens is asking for even more than planned.

"I know we're behind the eight-ball, and I wish this is something we (had) handled a little differently when I first got on council," said two-term Democrat Warren Turner, who chairs the council's community safety committee.

The chief's request is part of the agenda for the council's three-day planning retreat, scheduled for Wednesday through Friday at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro. (Previous plans to stay in Charlotte or go to Pinehurst were scrapped.)

A final decision on the new officers won't come until June, when the council adopts the annual budget. That budget is going to be tight, again. Although revenues -- especially sales tax -- are coming in faster than projected, the city has just enough money to continue its current programs through 2006-07.

That means no extra cash to resurface streets more often, add neighborhood inspectors or restart stalled road-widening projects.

Democrat Warren Turner said a property tax increase is inevitable, and he said the council may also curb employee raises to free up money for new officers and other priorities. Penny-pinching around the edges just won't work anymore, he said.

"I'm going to really sit back and see who comes up with the magic numbers and where they're going to get that bean and plant it and come up with the golden eggs," Turner said.

Republican Andy Dulin said he wants to help police.

"Those folks, when they go to work in the morning, they're not 100 percent sure they're coming back, in a lot of cases," he said. "They're putting their necks on the line."

But, Dulin added, "everybody knows that we've got a horribly tight year coming up."

The Request
*The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department is seeking 70 new officers for 2006-07. Here's how that breaks down: *

31 community coordinators. These officers work with neighborhoods to solve persistent problems and prevent crime.

27 patrol officers. These officers respond to calls.

12 detectives. The request includes officers to investigate gangs, domestic violence, auto theft, sexual assault and other high-profile crimes.

 Charlotte Observer (http://www.charlotte.com/)

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