Citing the growing tension between law enforcement and citizens not only locally, but nationwide, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen announced Tuesday the launch of a new project to rebuild trust in the community.

Through the efforts of the Charleston Police Fund, the City of Charleston Police Department, the City of Charleston, and numerous financial sponsors, the Illumination Project is a one-year plan to engage citizens and community leaders to develop new police procedures and strategies.

Beginning in October, steering groups made up of citizens will establish the main issues to be discussed and researched over the first six months of 2016. The findings of this research are scheduled to be released in October 2016, but certain changes recommended by the study may be implemented throughout the year. Mullen says he hopes to establish a dialogue between officers and citizens to see how certain law enforcement policies can be improved or made more transparent.

“What we want to provide to the public as we go through this process is we want to talk to them about the training that we do for our officers, the way that we actually create processes and policies, so that they understand why certain things are done a certain way,” he says. “The flip side of that is we want to create opportunities for officers to sit down with community members and hear what they have to say about their perception during a traffic stop or officer encounter, so that officers can learn about how that interaction affects the other side.”

Mullen says the project’s ultimate goal is long-lasting solutions to Charleston’s problems regarding police perception.
“Certainly in America, there is a discussion about the broader issue of police making communities safe and working with, connecting, and building on the trust and support of its citizens,” says Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., who called the initiative a necessary step to developing the best possible practices.

Chief Mullen raised the issue of the shooting death of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer that occurred earlier this year and said there is an ongoing debate over whether officers are viewed as “guardians or warriors.” The issue of controversial police policies was pulled back into the forefront following the recent bond hearing of Michael Slager, the former officer charged with Scott’s murder. During the hearing, Slager’s attorneys claimed that North Charleston police follow a quota system, which many feel creates an unnecessary tension between the public and law enforcement.

“Quotas interfere with police officers’ ability to develop positive relationships with the public and create unnecessary anxiety to motorists when they encounter a police vehicle,” says John Blackmon, president of the Tri-County Fraternal Order of Police’s local lodge. “Unnecessary anxiety can lead to tragic events.”

According to Chief Mullen, the Illumination Project is an effort for the department to address local tension and avoid interference from outside agencies.

“What I don’t want to happen is I don’t want for the federal government or some other entity to create a police mandate and come in and tell us what to do,” says Mullen. “I want to be proactive. I want to be on the leading edge and I want to create things that are specific and relevant to Charleston.”

The Illumination Project is not federally, state, or locally funded. Charleston citizens are asked to help contribute to the Illumination Project by visiting Money donated will go toward hiring research personnel, project designers, program facilitators, and other costs associated with the project. Information regarding the Illumination Project and its progress will be posted online throughout the course of the study.

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