In April, UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken announced he will leave his post on July 1. With the departure date approaching, the University is whittling down its short list, and invited two of the finalists to a moderated question and answer session in late June at Wilson Library.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Deputy Chief Johnny Jennings has 27 years of experience in the CMPD and currently manages the Administrative Services department. He’s led police operations for the NBA All-Star Game, the Democratic National Convention and he graduated from the FBI National Academy in 2010.
“We have to do a lot to rebuild or build trust with the community,” Jennings said. “Any time you have major incidents or controversial things, such as obviously the Silent Sam statue, you risk losing a lot of ground that you might have built up over the years.”
Jennings noted the pride associated with being part of a University community leads to differences in policing approaches compared to work done in a municipality like Charlotte.
“There's 30,000 students there, many of them their first time with any significant separation from their home is when they went off to college,” Jennings said. “Also the difference is everybody there, whatever capacity you’re in: You choose to be there.”
Jennings was part of a 5-person panel who advised UNC on its Silent Sam plan, which was presented and rejected in December. They said returning Silent Sam to McCorkle Place would have serious repercussions, including the return of significant protest activity, and warned the monument would “literally be under siege.”
Alongside recommending a free-standing building — which would ideally have limited windows and glass, along with other state-of-the-art security features — the panel advocated for the creation of a UNC system-wide “mobile force that was estimated to cost $2,000,000 annually and require the expenditure of $500,000 for equipment costs.”
“I have access to a great deal of officers,” Jennings said. “If I need access to 300 mobile field force officers then I can get that through my own department,“ he said in reference to his resources in Charlotte. “The University doesn’t have that luxury so it has to reach out to other resources. And one of the most obvious ones would be the other 16 schools in the system. However, they have limited resources as well.”
Silent Sam protest organizer Lindsay Ayling said students and community members are concerned about the possible implementation of the mobile force platoon.
“It seemed dystopian,” she said. “Rejecting the proposal for the mobile force platoon was one of the demands for the TA strike in the winter of 2018.”
Activists are also concerned about the UNC Police Department's use of undercover officers. In Fall 2017, protestors conducting an around-the-clock sit-in at Silent Sam realized one of their members was actually an officer working to gather intelligence under the alias of a Durham-based auto mechanic.
“No one in the administration to this day has ever apologized for that, and these new candidates didn’t really suggest that they would do anything differently,” she said.
Jennings said there are issues involved with the strategy, but the public nature of the protests meant surveilling wouldn't constitute "infiltration," and they were fair game for intelligence-gathering operations.
“I don’t like the whole infiltration thing because you’re not only dealing with fourth amendment rights that you have to be careful with, but the officer or detective that you’re putting in that role could be affected by it quite a bit, as well.”
The second candidate was David Kelly, field operations commander for the N.C. State University Police Department. He started his career with the Goldsboro Police Department, where he worked for 15 years. Now he manages the day-to-day operations for N.C. State's Patrol and Criminal Investigations Divisions.
"Our entire police force is heavily student centered, understands what it means to be a police force on a college campus," said , Mike Mullen, N.C. State's vice chancellor and dean for Academic and Student Affairs. "Dave’s got a great way of interacting with people. I think he’d be an outstanding chief of police for UNC."
Kelly worked in Afghanistan for three years as the Deputy Contingent Commander of an international contractor. He worked with the organization to provide law enforcement training and security for the Afghanistan Police Program.
According to emails posted by Wikileaks, Kelly was fired from his position following a judgement error by the international company in which a “15-year-old boy dancer” was hired to do tribal dances at a training site party.
At the forum Kelly said he knew nothing about the incident at the time and wasn’t allowed to investigate it. He also said he was allowed to complete his contract.
Kelly could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.
UNC will host the other two finalists beginning at 8:45 a.m. on July 2 in Wilson Library.
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