Amid continued opposition from some residents, North Charleston City Council recently approved a plan to create a citizens advisory commission on community and police relations. The plan calls for a 25-member commission made up of 20 city council appointees – two from each council district – a mayoral appointee and high school student appointees from various schools in the city.
Members of the new commission will perform several functions including reviewing police policies, traffic stops and internal investigations data, hearing residents’ complaints and helping to recruit new officers.
City council members anonymously approved the proposal. But despite its range, some in North Charleston feel the commission’s powers don’t reach far enough.
In the city where crime has reached near record proportions – 29 homicides to date this year – North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryan said the 18-month-long development process that produced the commission still has not provided a viable police review board for the citizens.
Citing several public hearings held since May 2015 that were led by community relations expert Walter Atkinson of the U.S. Justice Department, Bryant said residents consistently gave resounding disapproval to the efforts to create a review board that does not have the power to subpoena witnesses or enforce recommendations. Atkinson presented the final proposal for the commission Nov. 3. Many in attendance dissatisfied with the proposal, walked out of the meeting. “I don’t know what transpired between then and city council’s approving the proposal, but the community gave a resounding ‘no’ to the proposal. The police department has some systemic problems and this commission has no power to change that. We still have not gotten a report from the The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) and what we really want is an evaluation of polices and practices anyway. So we still don’t have a review board. All we have is a myth,” Bryant said.
Black Lives Matter – Charleston SC President Muhiyyidin D’baha has been among the most vocal opponents to the commission’s development. This week he said, “In its current form this is a recommendation board, with no authority to hold NCPD accountable to the community. These last ‘changes’ made after a spirited working group meeting is perfunctory and does not reflect the demand for greater community oversight of the NCPD.”
“An Independent outside monitor was proposed by Charleston Area Justice Ministry in April. But every member on North Charleston City Council has already voiced their reluctance to support that recommendation. Thus, we have no champions for that cause. Let us keep pursuing that and win champions. And let us explore other avenues at the same time.
“At some point the people that are experiencing the ‘state-violence’ must stand up for themselves. That is why Black Lives Matter – Charleston SC has continued a call for community oversight. It is self-determination. If our children are being harassed we need to protect our children, if we are having our constitutional rights violated, then we need to know how to file a lawsuit. If we are not guilty of a crime, then we need to stop taking plea deals and so on.
“This board in its current form is a weak body that can only make ‘recommendations’ and give advice. It does not represent a mechanism that can ensure accountability, legitimacy, and trust. It does nothing to address the abuse of authority that some officers engage in. Furthermore, there is no budget and no oversight power. We want to change that! While we may not get what we want, we have to be able to use what we’ve got, to get to where we want to go. This board is just a tool. And as an elected body, its true capacity will be revealed by the right people being chosen by the people- for the people.”
North Charleston Dist. 1 Councilman Michael A. Brown offered that the final draft of the proposal presented Nov. 3 was modified. Although the commission will not have subpoena power, nearly all its proposals come from residents’ recommendations, he said. After a year and a half in the development process, the city needs a working mechanism it can use to address police/community issues, Brown said emphasizing that the commission in its present form is not permanent. There are provisions for making adjustments, he said.
“While we’re fighting over a document, the city’s had almost 30 murders this year. And we’ll probably have 30 before the end of the year. We won’t be able to figure out how this will work until we start moving forward with it. In that regard, I feel good about it,” Brown said.