In late September of this year, the Charlotte Observer published an article detailing a disturbing trend that has taken root in the area: time and time again, weapons charges are dropped against suspects who are alleged to be involved in a crime. Time and time again, those individuals go on to commit more violence.
The article brings to light the story of Mario McGill, who was arrested in 2012 for breaking into a home and shooting a man in the leg. One year later, McGill was charged with firing a handgun and nearly striking a woman in the foot. In 2014, he was arrested for attacking that same woman, allegedly slamming her to the ground and putting a gun to her face.
All three cases were dismissed in court. In fact, McGill had nine consecutive weapons charges dropped against him over a seven-year period.
Soon after his last case was dismissed, Mario McGill shot and killed 26-year-old Robert Miller for unknown reasons.
Mecklenburg County prosecutors dismissed nearly 70% of all weapons charges brought to them between 2014 and 2018. This statistic is even more worrying when you learn that over half of the 300-plus people who have been charged with murder during that span had prior weapons charges.
Critics say this surge of dismissals is emboldening criminals. The murder rate in the area is going up, after all. In fact, 2017 saw the most homicides in Charlotte since 1995. 2019 is on pace to surpass that number.
So, Mecklenburg prosecutors have dismissed nearly 70% of weapons charges over the past four years. In that same timeframe, 57% of robbery cases have also been dropped. Their murder rate is three times the amount of New York City. And Mecklenburg County has a grand total of 86 prosecutors—fewer than almost any county in the United States. Are you beginning to see part of the problem here?
I had the honor of being a police chief in the great state of North Carolina for three years. I worked in the eastern military town of Havelock near the coast. Due to my time served there, I try to stay on top of issues in North Carolina.
The “Queen City” of Charlotte is a major metropolitan area. It’s a wonderful city. It’s big-time, with a huge airport from which you can travel to just about anywhere in the world.
The questions can’t be avoided: why have they failed to appoint an adequate number of prosecutors? Why haven’t they stepped up to the plate to address big-city issues? How does this failure affect the police—and, more importantly, the community it is supposed to protect?
What’s at Risk Here?
The Charlotte Observer quotes Alan Lizotte, a professor for the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Albany, who says that criminal suspects in cities like Charlotte ultimately learn that a gun charge “gets you nothing.”
“This is how homicides happen. If you pull out a gun enough times, eventually someone is going to get shot.”
Seemingly, no incentive is in place to dissuade offenders from carrying a gun. The police make an arrest, sure, but then what? Eventually, these offenders are emboldened and continue to escalate. Over the past five years, 126 people in the area had a dozen or more weapons charges. How can that be? At what point should some solid sentencing have happened? After the fifth time? Sixth? Seventh?
Police officers are held to high standards. If we fall short, we are forced to improve—or improvements will “be bestowed upon us.” It’s only right; if nine neighboring agencies wrote 500 tickets a month, but the tenth wrote 2,500 a month, some investigation would surely be in order. You can substitute tickets with complaints, use-of-force incidents, deadly force incidents…you get the point.
Cases are sometimes dropped because the police screw up. I get it, and I accept it. We train, we communicate, and we try to be better so the same mistake isn’t made next time. Many times, victims or witnesses are unreliable or uncooperative. I get that too. But at some point, statistics take the lead and tell us that there is a far greater problem at hand which needs correcting. During times like this, the finger needs to point inward.
The Thing with Statistics
A great baseball hitter batting .330 still failed to get a hit 67% of the time. What are our expectations for success? Stats have a habit of taking over the conversation.
It reminds me of a joke I use in honor of my late father, who was a U.S. merchant mariner.
“Statistics are like a lamp post for a drunken sailor: more about support than illumination.”
That being said, I think the article does illuminate. It is the result of an aggressive media following up on complaints to expose a worrying trend.
In this day and age, CNN people don’t trust FOX people, and FOX people don’t trust CNN people – apparently, “fake news” is everywhere. However, when print media gets its investigative reporting right, it lights its lamp post with the brightest of bulbs. We might not like what we see – but we’re glad we’re able to see it.
Expectations vs. Reality
Police are expected to keep crime levels low and make arrests right away. Sadly, it does not always work out that way. Trends and patterns emerge, and all we can do is put our best plans in place to attempt to put an end to the problem.
If there are 50 burglaries in a specific time frame, there are not 50 different offenders. There are maybe 10-20. That’s how it works. Want to put a stop to a spike in crime? Make a few well-placed arrests.
But what happens when things fail after they leave your hands? Let’s go back to the baseball metaphors—it’s the playoffs, after all. What happens when you’re up three runs in the 9th, you bring in your closer, he walks two, and then lets up a game-tying home run?
My answer: he would not be my closer for too much longer.
Sure, anyone can have a bad game—but those must be few-and-far-between. They must be an aberration, not the rule of thumb.
The media presented the facts. The numbers don’t lie. What now? Does this just become the norm?
Give the article a read for yourself. Something is not right.
Editor’s note: In a recent interview with CBS News 4 in Miami, Chief Magnusson shared insights into his philosophy of police work and his passion for law enforcement. He’s a powerful example of excellence in policing. It’s an honor to have him in the Calibre Press stable of contributors. Check out the interview.