Following a March 23 press conference to announce its challenge to Charleston officials about policing strategies impacting minority communities, the Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) is continuing to seek a meeting with Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg to address what CAJM considers the disproportionate traffic stops of black motorists.
According to CAJM, 50 percent of Charleston police traffic stop are of black motorists and the police department leads the state in the number of traffic stops. That’s since North Charleston police which previously held that distinction reduced its number of traffic stops after the police shooting death of Walter Scott in 2015. Local CAJM co-founder Rev. Nelson Rivers said the department stops twice the percentage of black motorists as the city’s total population of black residents.
Former Charleston Municipal Judge and CAJM board member attorney Arthur McFarland during last week’s press conference said, “North Charleston has taken the steps toward transparency by opening up themselves up to outside professionals specializing in auditing for racial bias, who have the expertise to offer concrete recommendations for improvement. Charleston however, has not.”
Charleston police however has Charleston has hired the Novak Consulting Group and Raftelis Financial Consultants to conduct a performance and efficiency audit of all city departments. CAJM calls on Charleston to conduct an audit specifically for bias in the police department with a top rated police auditing firm that has the expertise necessary to produce a report that both the city and police department can trust. Anything less will erode trust in both the police department and city government, CAJM insists.
During the press conference McFarland said, “Despite thousands of community members calling upon Mayor Tecklenburg to contract a qualified, independent, external police audit for racial bias, instead Mayor Tecklenburg has prioritized a performance assessment of all city departments of which the police department is lumped into, rather than specifically focused on. The two firms hired to do Charleston’s assessment audit – the Novak Consulting Group out of Cincinnati and Raftelis Financial Consultants are fine firms who specialize in municipal leadership and storm water drainage respectively, they do not specialize in auditing police departments for racial bias.
“We have a serious problem of racial discrimination in policing in practices of public contact stops, field contacts stops and most likely other areas. That serious problem should be addressed by the right specialist, a company with experience in auditing for racial bias,” McFarland said.
Charleston officials responded to CAJM’s concerns Tuesday noting that of 126,524 calls received by the department in 2016, 55 were investigated as complaints. Only 15 of those complaints were generated by citizens.
A spokesman said, “The Charleston Area Justice Ministry has taken the position that a so-called “investigatory stop” happens every time a driver is given a warning rather than being given a ticket. And what that means, in practice, is that the only way to significantly reduce the number of these stops is to order the police department to write a ticket every time they stop a driver for a vehicular or traffic violation, no matter how minor. The vast majority of drivers in the Charleston area – many of whom have benefitted from the warning process – would find such a policy needlessly punitive, and the city agrees.”
On the auditing firm the spokesman said, “The firm was chosen the same way all other major city contracts are bid out — through a competitive process run by the city’s procurement professionals. The firm that won that competitive process was found to be more than qualified to fulfill the contract. As a recent report in the Post and Courier stated, “Charleston recently hired two national firms to carry out the review, which will include the Police Department. Checks for racial bias are outlined in the contract with one of the firms — Cincinnati-based Novak Consulting Group — which has worked with police departments in Oberlin, Ohio; Carbondale, Ill.; Charlottesville, Va., and 14 other communities around the country.”