By Barney Blakeney
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. is continuing its efforts to get the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) to release the report on its review of the North Charleston Police Department begun over a year ago.
LDF officials say there has been no response from the Dept. of Justice. So they’re mounting a response of their own – a 6:30 p.m. September 21 community action meeting at the Alfred Williams Community Life Center at 4451 Durant Ave. in North Charleston. Last month the NAACP LDF issued a report revealing disparities in how complaints filed against North Charleston police officers were addressed. It also issued a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to the agency asking for all documents, data, and other information that the COPS Office has received from the North Charleston, S.C. Police Department and city officials.
LDF spokesman David Jacobs last week said since President Donald Trump appointed former Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions U.S. Attorney General no COPS report has been made public. Some seven reports on law enforcement agencies around the country, in addition to the review of the North Charleston Police Department, are overdue. According to LDF officials, such reviews usually take eight months to a year or longer to complete depending on the scope of the review. The North Charleston Police review was begun in May of 2016.
Adding fuel to fears that a discriminatory attorney general’s office headed by one of Alabama’s most overtly racist lawmakers will drag its feet in producing information that casts shadows of discrimination over police agencies, LDF Deputy Director of Policy and Senior Counsel, Monique L. Dixon said the AG’s office apparently is using a new policy to hold up the North Charleston report.
A March memorandum outlining the policy said, “The Deputy Attorney General and the Associate Attorney General are hereby directed to immediately review all Department activities – including collaborative investigations and prosecutions, grant making, technical assistance and training, compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent decrees, and task force participation – in order to ensure that they fully and effectively promote the principles outlined. Nothing in this Memorandum, however, should be construed to delay or impede any pending criminal or national security investigation or program.”
These were some of the points outlined in that memorandum:
• The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe.
• The safety and protection of the public is the paramount concern and duty of law enforcement officials.
• Law enforcement officers perform uniquely dangerous tasks, and the Department should help promote officer safety, officer morale, and public respect for their work.
• Local law enforcement must protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public. It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.
• Collaboration between federal and local law enforcement is important, and jurisdictions whose law enforcement agencies accept funding from the Department are expected to adhere to the Department’s grant conditions as well as to all federal laws.
Absent a report from COPS, Dixon noted the LDF joined local partners who include the North Charleston Branch NAACP in sending a letter to COPS urging the agency to complete and release its comprehensive and independent assessment of the NCPD’s policies and practices. There’s been no response to that letter or one reportedly sent to the agency by North Charleston officials making the same request. Dixon said COPS’ failure to respond is baffling considering the city requested the review in the first place. Diplomatically, Dixon intimated COPS, under direction from Sessions’ attorney general’s office, literally is stonewalling the process.
She said local residents likely will have to get their federal, state and local representatives to press for the report. It’s unfair that citizens met with COPS officials to share their concerns about the police department, only to have the agency waste tax dollars doing nothing with that information. The next step, she said, is for the LDF to conduct its own assessment of the department. To that end the LDF has made the FOIA request.
“Many opportunities for North Charleston Police Department to change has come and gone. Residents say that’s unacceptable. Taxpayers have paid for this assessment. We think it’s now time for residents to hear from local officials,” Dixon said.