Tuesday, June 11, 2013

$450 for horse manure removal, $69.26 for Bojangles'

The first head-scratcher was a $450 bill for horse manure removal -- an expense paid to a South Carolina company called Scoop D Doo Inc. 

On Tuesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police released an itemized list of how they spent nearly $50 million to secure the Democratic National Convention. 

The list included a lot of things we expected  -- $2.7 million for a video management system, $1.9 million for ballistic helmets and chest protectors, $1.54 million for housing.  But as I perused the list, I kept being drawn to the (mostly) small-ticket items that seemed like quirky purchases for an event that had been designated as a potential National Security threat.

The horse manure removal was one of those things. Police paid $450 to a Rock Hill-based company called Scoop D Doo Inc. to remove horse droppings (From Scoop D Doo's website: "We've seen our customers' back yards turn from a smelly dog poo land to a thriving lush green haven in a matter of weeks.") The DNC's temporary horse paddock was set up in First Ward, but a Department of Justice Report offered some criticism: "Event attendees found horses to be impressive looking, but this event did not lend to their need."  Still, police paid $75 for farrier services (those are the people who put shoes on the horses) and $400 to pressure wash the garage after the horses were gone. 

Among the other expenses:

  • Police paid  $9,999.82 for mass arrest tracking system software, although they never made a mass arrest. 
  • $949 went for something described only as chainsaw rentals
  • $9,654 paid for shin guards for bicycle officers
  • $17,000 purchased "aerial photography of event area."
  • $103,545 went for a Porta-Jon for portable restrooms in the event area for use by officers
  • $9,300 went to Impromteau Inc. for Lanyards for DNC credentials
  • The department paid the Charlotte Neighborhood and Business services $1,680 to clean up graffiti.  
  • $1,049.70 went to Dick's Clothing & Sports for portable tents. (Were the tents for undercover officers who infiltrated the protesters' encampment at Marshall Park?)

And make what you will of what the department paid for food. Officers who patrolled the city or who worked undercover were given a per diem to eat wherever they could. The joint information center ate food from Queen City Catering and Waiter's Choice.  But most officers got three meals at the R&R Center at Central Piedmont Community College.

A sampling of what they ate:

  • $450.40 went to Chik-Fil-A, but only $69.26 went to Bojangles'.  Arby's, the purveyor of roast beef sandwiches, received $31,878.39 for food. 
  • In the sandwich category, officers ate $49,018.68 worth of food from Jersey Mike's and spent $50,073.58 on food from Firehouse Subs. Another $82,262.63 went to Jasons' Deli. 
  • Compass Group (at Johnson & Wales University) received $22,358.40 for food, while Johnson C. Smith, where most officers stayed, received $202,761.50 to feed officers. 
  • Pepsi Cola received $95,686.50 to quench officers' thirst. The city paid $9,612.69 for ice. 
The department also paid $1.54 million for housing. The bulk of that went to Johnson C. Smith, which got $726.289.97 to house officers. Johnson & Wales University received $188,333.04.  -- Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to avoid being a victim of Charlotte's most prevalent crime.

The bad news is that criminals who break into cars and steal things are finding new and more sophisticated ways to victimize people. The good news, police say, is that thefts from autos are one of the most preventable crimes. 

Earlier today, police arrested two men for allegedly breaking into cars at the government plaza parking deck in the center city.  Last month, local police and federal authorities said they broke up an organized crime ring that stole checkbooks from cars, then used them to make phony deposits into the suspects' bank accounts. That means many people were victimized twice, first by broken windows and stolen goods, then later when money disappeared from bank accounts.

Last year, thefts from autos accounted for nearly one in every four crimes, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Crime Statistics. But police have long contended that people can "harden" themselves to these types of crimes. One officer told me he takes every thing out of his car when he leaves.  (I contended that a messy car practically lived in by, say, a reporter would make it hard for a thief to get in and out inconspicuously.)

The car break-in story is a bit more nuanced than that. For years, investigators didn't go to the scene of car break-ins because the crimes had such a low solve rate. Instead, the department fielded reports over the phone or via the Internet. I've taken a number of calls from people incensed that police didn't send someone to dust for fingerprints on their car. Car break-ins went down after Rodney Monroe became chief in 2009 and changed the policy. 

Through it all, police used public awareness campaigns to get car owners to turn their vehicles into less-desirable targets.  A few years back, police launched a television campaign encouraging people to take small, easily-pawned goods out of their car. They reiterated that advice before Memorial Day weekend, when thousands of visitors were expected in the city for race week.

Here are some of the better tips: 
  • Lock your car doors and windows 
  • Install removable electronics, such as CD players, that you can take with you when you leave.
  • Don't leave anything visible. Tempting items include small electronics, a purse or computer bag
  • Avoid putting valuables in the trunk once you arrive at your location. Some thieves watch parking lots waiting for victims to stow things, then break a window and pull the trunk release
  • Park in secured, well-lighted areas, or in a garage, if possible
  • Avoid GPS holders with suction cups. Even if the device isn't visible, the ring the devices leave on the window often signals to thieves that a GPS device is hidden inside. The same goes for a visible iPod cord or a cell phone charger.
--Cleve R. Wootson Jr.