Charleston city officials will vote on whether to award a contract to CNA, a Virginia-based research firm, to study racial bias in the Charleston Police Department.

The city would pay the firm $158,556.26 to help the department “uncover any aspects of implicit bias, as well as systemic and individual racial bias,” according to a scope of work issued by the city and partly written by the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, a local interfaith activist group.

A committee of police officers, city staff, and council members chose CNA in September.

Six other companies showed interest in the job.

If City Council approves CNA’s contract on Tues. Dec. 18, the firm will also be tasked with assessing the impact of policing on “historically marginalized and discriminated against populations, particularly the African-American community.” [content-1]Gary Cooper, the city’s procurement director, says contract negotiations with CNA were finalized earlier this month.

“We felt this was a fair price for what we’re asking them to do,” Cooper said in a phone call with the City Paper. “There’s no change in the price from their proposal.”

The agreement is set to last one year, per the city’s terms, but the timeline will ultimately depend on how long the firm takes to get the job done.

“We’re in it until they finish what they supposed to be doing,” Cooper said.

The decision to study law enforcement in the Holy City came after local activists, including member of CAJM, took issue with the city’s decision to allow a vague audit of the police department by Novak Consulting, an Ohio-based firm that was hired to conduct an efficiency audit of various city departments in February 2017.

That audit was part of Mayor John Tecklenburg’s campaign promises, but some felt a stronger focus on racial bias was needed amid reports of excessive force against African Americans, including the highly-publicized April 2015 shooting of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer.

The officer in that case, Michael Slager, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a federal judge in Charleston last year.
[content-2] Concerns about the over-policing of black youth were brought up recently after a teenage palmetto rose seller was arrested near the City Market in July. Police say the teen was involved in an altercation with the arresting officer and, at one point, ended up on top of him.

The city has since established a committee to improve the palmetto rose program, which children aged nine through 16 can join for free in order to legally sell the traditional folded palmetto fronds at locations throughout downtown Charleston.

CNA has studied racial bias in policing in the cities of Las Vegas; Philadelphia; Fayetteville, N.C.; and Spokane, Wash. The firm has also worked with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
[content-3] “In total, we currently work with over 340 police agencies on a number of other policing issues (i.e. violent crime reduction, body-worn camera technology, precision policing, police-research partnerships, critical incident review),” said CNA researcher Denise Rodriguez in an email to the City Paper.

“Racial profiling is one of the most highly visible and important issues facing law enforcement today,” said Carl R. Peed, director of the DOJ COPS office, in a report drafted by CNA and released in 2002. “Recent surveys show that more than 60 percent of Americans believe that racial profiling exists.”

Among the conclusions, the firm found that data collection across a variety of metrics can help do away with simplistic explanations and bring law enforcement and the community closer.

“Data that is assessed using simple metrics may ‘appear’ to show racial profiling, and be misunderstood and/or incorrectly used by special interest groups,” the report reads. “An additional benefit from data collection is that it focuses attention on the issue, and may result in making members of the community feel that their concerns are at least being addressed in a substantive fashion.”

The Charleston County Coordinating Council, a partnership between local nonprofits and law enforcement agencies, released its first report looking at racial disproportionality in the county’s criminal justice system in September.