By Barney Blakeney
The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston report titled “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015” released last year noted of 253 sworn officers in Charleston County Sheriff Office, only 27 are Black. In Charleston County where the population of approximately 350,000 is about one-third Black, about 25 percent of the sheriff office’s employees, including those working in law enforcement and the detention center, are Black – about 162 of the office’s nearly 600 employees.
Forty-seven Blacks are among the 84 members of the command staff.
“Several law enforcement agencies, including Charleston County Sheriff Office and North Charleston Police Department, have especially egregious records of police misconduct and violence against civilians,” the report said. For two days in August, the department took another step to address those concerns by conducting training for sworn officers covering the topics of Human/Cultural Diversity, Building Trust, De-escalation Skills, the Ethics of Policing and Office Safety.
Charleston County Sheriff Office Chief Deputy Eric Watson said the training was conducted because leadership in the department understands that along with the county’s growing population comes increasing challenges. To face those challenges successfully, officers need to understand the history of the relationships between law enforcement and certain communities. It’s about educating sworn officers and the community, he believes.
In June, Dedication To Community, a Raleigh, NC based not-for-profit organization, launched its partnership with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office by presenting an Awareness & Action Forum at Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston. The forum’s theme was entitled “Rebuilding Our Community – Bridging The Gap & Building Successful Police/Community Relations”. Watson said his relationship with founder, M. Quentin Williams, an attorney and former FBI agent, led to the two-day training sessions. Others will follow, he hopes.
The training was well received by the officers, Watson said, though there was some negative feedback. But the results of a survey of officers conducted after the sessions were positive, he added. And in addition to training, the department is ramping up its recruitment of minority officers. It’s made headway in recruiting female officers, but more work is needed to bring on board more minority officers. That’s a critical challenge facing law enforcement agencies across the nation, he noted. There’s been some success at the Sheriff office, he said.
“It’s a process that requires patience. We’re taking a holistic approach, but everyone has to realize we can’t be a panacea and we have to function with support through various partnerships and build on our relationships,” Watson said.