[image-1] Charleston will soon have a standing, public body expressly dedicated to fostering dialogue between local law enforcement and the residents it serves.
Charleston City Council unanimously approved the creation of an 18-member Citizens Police Advisory Council at Tuesday night’s meeting.
“The Advisory Council serves to facilitate the involvement of the residents representing neighborhoods and communities in our city in order to improve policing and strengthen the connection between the citizens and the Charleston Police Department,” according to guidelines drafted by city staff and members of the Illumination Project, a series of listening sessions started by former police chief Greg Mullen in 2015 which culminated in a report endorsing the creation of a citizen’s advisory council, among other things.
The advisory council will include 12 members appointed by each City Council member, four appointed by Mayor Tecklenburg, two high school seniors, the Mayor, and new Charleston police chief Luther Reynolds.
The makeup was reduced from eight mayoral appointees and three high school seniors at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I’m sort of the one who brought up concerns about the size of this committee only because we’ve had a lot of large committees before, and when they got the job done is when they’ve been pared down a little bit,” said District 8 councilman Mike Seekings.
District 9 councilman Peter Shahid said that the Public Safety Committee was in full support of the advisory council.
The approval of the advisory council comes more than five months after City Council voted to hire a firm to conduct a racial bias study of the Charleston Police Department. Local activists spurred by police killings across the country, including one in North Charleston in 2015, pressured City Council for over a year before a decision on the racial bias study was finalized.
That study, and the new advisory council, will fall under the purview of Charleston’s new police chief, Luther Reynolds, who embraced the idea along with the need to keep young people involved in the process.
“We welcome this as another way of collaborating and partnering,” Reynolds said. “I’m lucky I’m on this side of the law and not the other side, it could’ve easily gone in the other direction.”
The advisory council is not granted the power to summon officials to show up to meetings under the drafted guidelines, unlike similar citizen advisory groups in Atlanta and Miami. The approval of a Citizens Advisory Commission on Community-Police Relations in North Charleston was delayed for months after activists called for subpoena powers, which they said would help keep law enforcement officials accountable.
“We need an advisory committee that has teeth,” North Charleston resident Louis Smith told The Post & Courier at the time.
Members of the new body would be required to attend “Policing 101” training and participate in police-ride-alongs.
“This is a working council,” Shahid said.
Other membership qualifications, such as one requiring that members have no outstanding warrants, are not under indictment, and are not on parole or probation, raised concerns in the Council chamber.
“Those particular individuals might be able to tie more insight into things that are happening in this community,” said District 4 councilman Robert Mitchell. “I worked in the penal system for a while, I just don’t understand that. To me, you’re discriminating from other people again.”
Other Council members, including Shahid and District 12 Councilwoman Carol Jackson, said that the city was right to be careful about anyone with pending or outstanding criminal issues.
Mayor Tecklenburg offered one of his appointments to someone who has gone through a former offender program such as the Turning Leaf Project.
Councilman Mitchell was also concerned about an initial suggestion that the number of high schoolers be reduced from three to one. Council eventually reached a compromise to keep two local high school seniors in the advisory council.
“Don’t throw these kids under the bus or you’ll have some problems with me,” Mitchell joked.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston NAACP, expressed hope that the advisory council could help bridge the gap in understanding between a wary public and a protective police force.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Scott said in a phone interview with CP, adding that she remained cautions about the mayor’s and Council’s choices to fill the advisory council’s ranks. “They need to make sure that these people really feel that we have room for improvement. I’m not so sure that everybody believes there’s a need for improvement.”
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