By Barney Blakeney
Last week the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational fund, Inc. office issued a report revealing disparities in how complaints filed against North Charleston police officers were addressed. The LDF found racial disparities were persistent and highly pronounced in the percentage, rate, and outcomes of citizen complaints filed against NCPD officers.
In a July 14 press release LDF Senior Communications Associate David Jacobs reported African Americans filed nearly twice as many complaints as their White counterparts, but that complaints filed by African Americans were sustained only 31 percent of the time as opposed to complaints filed by Whites, which were sustained 50 percent of the time. This racial disparity was particularly pronounced in use-of-force complaints, where the NCPD sustained complaints filed by White residents at seven times the rate at which they sustained complaints filed by African Americans, the LDF reported.
The LDF’s report also noted that the NCPD does not accurately classify citizen complaints. For example, the NCPD identified 35 use-of-force complaints from 2006 to 2016, but LDF’s review shows that as many as 54 complaints should have been categorized as use-of-force. This is particularly concerning, as it suggests that NCPD personnel charged with reviewing complaints are not accurately capturing the nature of citizen complaints and, in many cases, are minimizing the seriousness of the offenses an officer is alleged to have committed, Jacobs said in the press release.
Moreover, the LDF found that the NCPD does not seem to adequately investigate complaints filed by residents or impose discipline when a complaint against an officer is sustained. Many reports reviewed did not describe any investigatory steps taken by the NCPD, instead they simply recounted the officer’s narrative as fact. And out of the 343 total citizen complaints, only 11 sustained complaints indicated that some disciplinary action was taken against an officer.
In the press release the LDF issued this statement, “After analyzing hundreds of pages of documents filed with the NCPD from 2006 through 2016, LDF found both that African Americans were more likely to file complaints against officers than their White counterparts, and complaints filed by African Americans were sustained at a much lower rate. LDF also found that the NCPD conducts inadequate investigations in response to citizen complaints, as complaint reports are often missing critical information and rarely note whether disciplinary actions were taken against offending officers.
“In addition to releasing the report, LDF and our North Charleston partners also sent a letter to the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office (COPS Office) urging the agency to complete and release its comprehensive and independent assessment of the NCPD’s policies and practices that it began in May of last year.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF said, ““Residents of North Charleston have urged city officials to change policing practices for years. Our report analyzing citizen complaints against the NCPD confirms the views of residents of color that they are disproportionately mistreated by police, yet their complaints are not adequately documented or addressed. These disturbing findings underscore the need for the long overdue COPS Office comprehensive review of the police department’s policies and practices, as well as their recommendations for reform. Implementing and institutionalizing reform is no easy task, but the alternative – the maintenance of the status quo – is simply unacceptable.”
North Charleston Branch NAACP President Ed Bryant said he feels the LDF report significantly will impact the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office (COPS Office) report on North Charleston police due later this year. The branch is awaiting that report and will determine its response accordingly, he said.
But with 21 murders committed in the city so far this year, Bryant said he is more immediately concerned about the number of guns on the city’s streets. Without those guns people would have to find alternatives ways to resolve disputes, he said. Still, residents of the Black community must address some cultural dynamics, he added.