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Outgoing Police Chief Rodney Monroe's barber gives insight into how things changed during Monroe's tenure 

Giving the city a shape-up

When Rodney Monroe was named Chief of Police for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in 2008, he asked around about who gave the best haircut. A detective introduced him to Gene Winchester, owner of Fourth Ward Barber & Styling Millenium on Graham Street, and the rest was history.

Following years of discussions both personal and political with Monroe, Winchester helped found Cops and Barbers, a town hall forum aimed to build relationships between police and Charlotte's black community. The first meeting, titled "Hands Up, What Now?" took place on February 1 and is held on the first Sunday of each month.

Then-Deputy Chief Kerr Putney, who replaced Monroe following his retirement on July 1, co-hosted the June meeting and led much of the discussion. Winchester said he hopes to continue expanding the program with Putney.

Creative Loafing sat with Winchester in his shop recently to discuss Cops and Barbers and Monroe's legacy.

What were your first thoughts about Monroe the day you met him?

Gene Winchester: He came in and was a very approachable, common-type fellow. When you're in a barbershop, people take off their well-to-do-hats and everybody's on the same level, so he just blended right on in.

What was the state of community relations with the CMPD at that point?

At that point, it was a slippery slope. You had a lot of racial tension. A lot of times, people fear what they don't understand or they don't know. Before the chief came, the open line to communication with the community wasn't there.

How has he grown from when he came in to who he is now professionally?

I've watched him establishing new programs, different programs to engage with the community. He's been adjusting to the different questions and answers that people may have in the community.

I've seen him in groups that are primarily white, and primarily black groups, and he's able to give this group what they need and then same for the other group while still being transparent.

What are the thoughts of the average person who walks through your door on Monroe and what he's done with the CMPD?

In barbershops, you get all different types of people and they see the chief and see that he's approachable. It's an awesome thing to see the little black kids' faces light up when they see this chief — black like them — in his uniform.

This also might have been the first time that we, as a community, have seen the Chief of Police being on the scene of murders or whatever the situation is, consoling the family, just being a leader for the CMPD.

What sorts of things do you two discuss when he's in the chair?

Oh man, the chief is an avid sports fan, so we talk sports all the time.

Also, I'm president of the North Carolina Barbers' Association, so we have a partnership where we talk about different ideas of how we can improve things together in the community.

What sports?

He's a Washington Redskins fan. We give it to him real good when they're losing. I know one specific time, there were four linemen from the Carolina Panthers in here and these are big guys — 6-foot-3 (inches) and 300 pounds — and I was cutting the chief's hair and he was talking junk to these players and he is smaller than all these guys and to see how intimidated they were when he spoke was funny to see (laughs). It was all in good humor.

How did the idea for Cops and Barbers come about, and did you and Monroe bring it to fruition?

We had a (NCBA) board meeting and a board member wanted to do a panel discussion inside his barbershop. I thought that should be expounded upon and I contacted the chief.

I proposed the idea of CMPD partnering with the NCBA to be able to put on this town hall. He loved the idea and we just put our heads together and tried to max out how it could fit the community best. It just took a life of its own.

What do you believe will be Chief Monroe's legacy in Charlotte?

He wasn't scared to do the unconventional, and that can make a difference. I think that speaks volumes, because a lot of times when you have unconventional situations you have to use unconventional methods, especially when you want to make a change.

Do you think CMPD will be able to carry on this momentum as far as his relationships with local communities when he's gone?

I see the change happening. Police officers are going out to eat with the youth. The captains and their officers are patrolling these neighborhoods sitting down with these youth and engaging in conversation. You can see the openness and the change in the youth and in the officers. The support system that the new chief will have around him will be the same support system that Chief Monroe had. I believe these people will help Chief Putney blend right on in with the program that already exists.

A lot of people are talking about the upcoming Randall Kerrick trial and ensuring Charlotte doesn't experience things that have been experienced around the country. Do you believe Putney's the right person to lead Charlotte in that time?

As far as speaking upon the trial, we can't prepare for one day. There are going to be days after the trial, and I believe it would be immature to prepare this city for one day. I think you set the city up if you prepare for one day. We have to plan for the other days coming, because more days are coming beyond that trial, and I think Putney is going to be the right choice for the beyond.

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