[image-1]A coalition of local leaders from the ACLU of South Carolina, Charleston Area Justice Ministry, Community Resource Center, and North Charleston NAACP have banded together to push reform efforts in the North Charleston Police Department — with or without the federal government’s help.
Last week, the Department of Justice announced its decision to disband a federal reform program that had been examining the practices of the North Charleston Police Department for more than a year. Led by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), the agency was invited by North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers to include the department in its Collaborative Reform Initiative in 2016.
The mayor’s invitation came following the shooting death of Walter Scott by North Charleston officer Michael Slager. In May, Slager pled guilty to a federal civil rights charge. In exchange, two additional federal charges were dropped, as well as a state murder charge. Slager now awaits sentencing.
Scott’s death sparked a growing call for an independent audit of the North Charleston Police Department, with community members demanding a pattern or practice investigation by the Department of Justice. While the changes handed down from a pattern or practice investigation are mandatory, any recommendations from the Collaborative Reform Initiative are voluntarily implemented, although the COPS office does track what reforms are put into effect.
As a part of the review program, the COPS office was to interview officers, community members, and examine police policies in North Charleston before releasing a list of recommendations aimed at strengthening community trust with the department.
This past summer, the proposed deadline for the first COPS report came and went, with little word about when the community might see the agency’s findings. Now the program has been stopped dead its tracks.
“Changes to this program will fulfill my commitment to respect local control and accountability, while still delivering important tailored resources to local law enforcement to fight violent crime,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week. “This is a course correction to ensure that resources go to agencies that require assistance rather than expensive wide-ranging investigative assessments that go beyond the scope of technical assistance and support.”
Since the creation of the Collaborative Reform Initiative, 16 departments across the country have undergone review starting with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in 2012. The initial assessment of the Las Vegas police spanned nine months, with the first report being released in October 2012. A follow-up report by COPS released in 2014 showed that the department had completed 72 of 80 proposed recommendations and reforms outlined in the first report, and another five were in the process of being completed.
Now, with the COPS review of North Charleston put to an end, local community leaders are calling for the findings of the initial report to be released.
“Our tax dollars are what allow a Department of Justice to exist and therefore that report, about our city’s police department is rightfully our property,” said Rev. Clinton Brantley of St. Matthew Baptist Church, speaking on behalf of CAJM. “We call on the DOJ to allow that report to be released immediately. We will not be discouraged. Our community is awake and active, so our fight will not stop now.”
Along with CAJM, the ACLU of South Carolina, the Community Resource Center, and the North Charleston NAACP will be holding a community action forum on Thurs. Sept. 21 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Alfred Williams Community Center in North Charleston. In the case that the Justice Department refuses to release the whatever findings were collected during the COPS review of North Charleston, Ed Bryant, president of the North Charleston NAACP said Wednesday that the groups would resume calls for an independent audit of the city’s police department.
“Not all police officers are bad. Not all of them are bad. We’ve got some good cops and we’ve got some bad cops,” said Bryant. “But if we put these programs and reform in place, we can weed out the bad cops from the goods cops.”