N.C. Police Won't Talk About $25M in Equipment for DNC

In preparation for the Democratic National Convention, the city of Charlotte is expected to buy up to $25 million of new police equipment that could impact for years how officers do their jobs.

Jan. 25--In preparation for the Democratic National Convention, the city of Charlotte is expected to buy up to $25 million of new police equipment that could impact for years how officers do their jobs.

Other cities that have hosted political conventions have disclosed their purchases, including surveillance cameras, armored vehicles and non-lethal guns that fire pepper-spray-filled balls.

But the Charlotte DNC purchases won't come before a public vote, which is the usual procedure. And Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said it won't disclose what it is buying.

A year ago, the Charlotte City Council voted to give City Manager Curt Walton power to approve DNC contracts, leaving council members -- and the public -- in the dark.

In response to a public records request by the Observer, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police only gave spending totals by categories such as "technology" and "equipment," but offered no details. The CMPD said details would compromise its security plan for the DNC.

"All of that speaks to our ops plan, our strategy," said CMPD deputy chief Harold Medlock, who is overseeing the department's plans for the DNC.

Cooksey concerns

Three City Council members, however, said they would like to have input and more openness.

Republican City Council member Warren Cooksey told the Observer he didn't realize he had voted in February 2011 to give Walton leeway to grant contracts. He said in retrospect that might not have been the best decision, and that such police spending should be debated in a public forum.

"We are relying on trust," Cooksey said.

Tampa, which is hosting the 2012 Republican National Convention, is having its security expenditures go before City Council for a vote, according to Santiago Corrada, chief of staff for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

"We have a vetting process for those purchases," Corrada said.

The city of Denver, which hosted the 2008 DNC, was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado in an attempt to get a detailed breakdown of how it spent its security money. In response to the lawsuit, and to dispel rumours that it had purchased "sonic ray guns," Denver detailed much of its spending.

Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU in Denver, said the public has a right to know how tax dollars are being spent.

"It's an expenditure of public money," Silverstein said.

He also said if police are buying new types of non-lethal weapons, citizens should be able to ask if the police will have the proper training and what the cities guidelines are for use.

The CMPD's use of non-lethal Tasers has been controversial. Last July, the department suspended its use of Tasers after a police officer used a Taser on a man who was choking a woman at a Lynx light rail station. The suspect died.

In September, the city, in a public vote, spent $1.8 million on new Tasers that CMPD said are safer. The new Tasers were unveiled by police today.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, said he was OK with the council's decision to give Walton spending power.

"I am not bothered by the discretion given to the City Manager unanimously in a vote by the last City Council," Foxx said in a statement released by his assistant, Tracy Montross. "As the Convention draws closer, we will need to be expeditious in decision making. Council members know that they are welcome to address any questions to the City Manager at any time."

Council member David Howard, who is also a Democrat, said he didn't realize he had voted to give the manager spending power. But he's OK with the decision.

"I definitely don't remember that vote, but it doesn't bother me," Howard said.

He added it's important to give the manager authority to act quickly because the DNC is so complex and important.

"This is a live moving organism," Howard said. "We should make sure we get this right. If something goes wrong, we won't care about how we did it."

Charlotte will receive a $50 million federal security grant for the September convention. Medlock said between 1/3 and 1/2 of that money will be used to buy equipment, with the rest used to pay overtime and salaries of officers from other departments coming to help.

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