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Scrutinizing the system 

Panel will examine Mecklenburg criminal justice

By the time this newspaper comes out, the Justice and Public Safety Task Force is expected to have held its inaugural meeting. It has no binding authority and, at press time, had no agenda, but the panel is charged with examining every aspect of the justice system in Mecklenburg County and offering suggestions to the Board of County Commissioners.

Task force co-chairman Harry Nurkin said the group hopes to make a positive impact.

"We're going to try to hear from the county commission on various aspects that make up the criminal justice system: the issue of courts and jails and police and sheriff and public defenders and DA and get an understanding of how all of these things work together," Nurkin said.

Public safety has been a hot-button topic this year as crime rates rise and even neighborhoods generally considered safe have seen an increase in property crimes.

The latest statistics from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department show an 8.4 percent increase in May compared to that month last year in the number of violent crimes and a nearly 10 percent increase in property crimes. Residential burglaries are up 13.2 percent. Vehicle thefts rose 6.1 percent. Robberies are up 9.4 percent.

Though the panel will take its charges from county commissioners, no one will tell it what to say. "We're going to come up with independent recommendations," Nurkin said.

The task force's July 23 meeting is expected to be the first of weekly public meetings. Its 14-person roster includes a diverse group of Mecklenburg residents, both Democrat and Republican: business people, faith leaders and law enforcement representatives.

County Manager Harry Jones said that this group reflects Mecklenburg County's history of involving citizens in local government issues

He said that more than 300 people applied to be a part of the task force and while everyone couldn't be chosen, the county wants those people to stay involved. The idea for the task force was born out of discussion among county commissioners, he said.

According to the county's Web site, the purpose of the task force is to "recommend allocation of recourses to makes the most effective impact on crime and justice."

There are other volunteer-driven crime boards in Charlotte. More than a decade ago, the Charlotte City Council created the police civilian review board.

Who are the task force members?

• Co-chairman Harry A. Nurkin, retired president and chief executive officer of Carolinas HealthCare System

• Co-chairwoman Shirley L. Fulton, attorney and former judge

• Mary Howerton, management consultant

• Mark Sumwalt, attorney

• Chris Swecker, retired, assistant director and special agent-in-charge of Federal Bureau of Investigations' N.C. operations; currently global security director, Bank of America

• Cheryl Ellis, charter school principal

• John Vaughan, doctor

• Richard Martin, vice president, Bank of America

• Zeke Burns, chief executive officer, OMITT Trade School

• Tonya Rawls, pastor, Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte; executive director, The Freedom Center for Social Justice

• Ericka Ellis-Stewart, YMCA of Greater Charlotte-Johnston Branch

• William Munson IV, TIAA-CREF

• Rivana Stadtlander, homemaker

• Maudia Melendez, director, Jesus Ministry

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