CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46) - It’s been just over five months since Charlotte was rocked by riots in the aftermath of the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott. In the middle of the chaos a group of 29 CMPD recruits chose to start their training.
Being a police officer is a job many people would not want and when you see images of officers in the middle of danger you probably want to know why they would choose this career and put their lives at risk every day.
The rioting in Charlotte last year was enough to scare anyone.
“No, that did not change my mind one bit,” CMPD Officer Recruit Carrington McClary said.
McClary is one of the 29 faces of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s 175th recruiting class. They all started training just one month after CMPD came under the nation’s microscope for the killing of Keith Lamont Scott.
“To change my career choice based off one incident, I would feel I would be shortchanging myself,” McClary explained.
McClary said he grew up looking at police officers as role models, but he said he wasn’t proud of some of the things he saw from others on the streets.
“I would look around in my community and see a whole lot of things I didn’t like and I was always told if you didn’t like something, fix it,” he said.
He and the other officers chose to become police officers during a tumultuous time where trust between police and people in the community was strained.
“When situations like that arise, we need as many good police officers who are dedicated to helping the community out there as we can get,” McClary said. “I think you have to be able to talk to people and be open to different ideas and different things that go on.”
Despite the violence and unrest in Charlotte, none of them wanted out.
“You always have to remember, we’re the people that run towards the trouble, we can’t run away from the trouble,” Captain Demetria Faulkner-Welch said.
Captain Welch is in charge of recruiting for CMPD. She said applications to the department for police officer positions have remained steady in recent years.
“We have one of the top ranked academies here, so I think because of that people are interested in coming to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department,” she said.
CMPD is unique. Recruits don’t have to go to a community college to get their training because the department has its own academy. Add to that clout – CMPD is the largest police department between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.
It’s another reason why a recruit might want to join this force in particular – but it’s a different story for smaller police departments.
“With our current climate in the nation, it kind of makes people question is it worth going through that to do this kind of job.”
The Matthews Police Department said it has had challenges with recruiting – especially within the last year. The department, like some others, is using social media to get the word out. But a spokesperson said the chief isn’t going to lower his standards just to fill in open slots.
“There’s been times where we’ve had positions that haven’t been filled and he just reposted because he wasn’t happy with the applicant pool that we had.”
Back in Charlotte – some good things came out of those dark days of riots.
“Of course we’ve learned from it. There’s training that we’ve implemented because it was a learning experience from all of us.”
CMPD has made changes to its diversity training for all employees.
“The best way is to connect with people different from you. Do it consistently because it’s hard to hate up close,” CMPD Chief Putney said.
The police department has also started what they call “Transparency Workshops” where people in the community learn what officers do and police officers listen to the community’s concerns.
“I want to be able to be an example like for somebody was when I was little, for somebody to see me and say I want to do what he does,” McClary said.
On April 7, 2017 McClary and his fellow recruits will earn their badge, like so many before them, part of a police department that’s now different.
“I actually get to live out what I wanted to do my whole life, being the difference in my community and the public eye.”
An eye that sees police in many different ways.
Now, the recruits will go on to represent a department that’s been challenged, changed and strengthened.