Charleston Council Comes Down To Black And White Vote On Police Race Bias

By Barney Blakeney

Charleston City Council June 20 voted down a resolution to hire a separate firm to conduct a race bias audit of the city’s police department. The resolution was proposed by Councilman James Lewis in response to the Charleston Area Justice Ministry’s call for an independent audit of the department. The city has contracted a firm to perform audits of all departments. African-Americans are twice as likely to be stopped by the Charleston Police Department as whites, the faith-based organization reports. So it proposed a separate audit for the police department.

City Council voted 7-5 to have the company already contracted to conduct audits of city departments choose a firm to perform the race bias audit of the police department. Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM ) President Rev. Charles Heyward said that falls short of what the organization thinks should happen. He emphasized that’s his individual feeling. The organization has not met to discuss last week’s city council decision, he noted. Lewis said he thinks CAJM may have lost that singular battle, but has achieved its goal of forcing the city to address the issue of race bias in the police department.

Rev. Charles Heyward

After a more than four-hour meeting during which most of that time was spent discussing the police audit, council voted to have the Novak Consulting Group make three recommendations to an ad hoc committee which will determine the firm that will conduct the police department audit. Mayor John Tecklenburg’s administration proposed that Novak choose the police auditing firm. It considers the decision a compromise.

The issue brewed controversy before last week’s vote with city officials claiming CAJM was attempting to manipulate municipal authority. But with support from four of council’s five Black representatives, CAJM fought back with allegations of reported biased policing. Council’s vote came down to a racially split decision with the exception that one Black councilman vote with prevailing whites and one white councilman voting with the losing Blacks. Lewis said he expected that result.

Charleston officials over the weekend issued this statement, ““Earlier this year, at Mayor Tecklenburg’s request, City Council voted unanimously to conduct an independent bias-based audit of the Charleston Police Department. This process is designed to help determine whether our existing practices and procedures are fair and impartial to all our citizens, and to help find strategies to remedy any systemic problems that might be found. The audit will be overseen by The Novak Group of Cincinnati, Ohio, in partnership with one of the nation’s leading bias-based policing auditors, and is scheduled to begin later this year.”

While the statement issued by the administration may be void of implications other than what’s been decided, Heyward said the real work will be in choosing an auditing firm that will do more than rubberstamp the city’s portrayal of its police department. Since the horrific tragedy of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church and perceived injustice in the police shooting death of Walter Scott in North Charleston the white community and law enforcement specifically has made an overt effort to appear unbiased. A factual objective audit of police agencies must dig beneath such appearances, Heyward said.

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