By Dot Scott
Today I’m writing not as the President of the Charleston Branch NAACP, but instead, as a citizen of the City of North Charleston, and a former member of the North Charleston’s Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Police-Community Relations. I join in the Charleston Area Justice Ministry’s call for an independent audit of the North Charleston Police Department to determine if there is a pattern of racial bias in policing and to propose positive steps if racial bias is found.
I do this as one who has experienced racial profiling by North Charleston Police officers and as one who have reported claims for a family members and others who have been racially profiled in North Charleston. Every citizen and visitor to our city deserves respect from those who enforce the law, and no citizen should feel demeaned or threatened.
North Charleston city and police officials have argued that progress has been made, that work has already been done in the wake of the murder of Walter Scott and that neighbor City of Charleston’s recent police racial bias audit provided information that North Charleston can adapt to improve their policing. I disagree with that.
Concerns with policing in North Charleston didn’t begin when Walter Scott was gunned down. Those concerns predate the fatal shooting of Asberry Wilder by North Charleston officers responding to a shoplifting complaint in 2003.
While there have been some improvements in the number of police traffic stops, there still remain unacceptable levels of racial disparities in the stops. That being said, major concerns still exist around the issue of a culture change that demands, expects and affirms that every officer who puts on the uniform of the North Charleston Police Department accepts, respects and executes to the letter of the law the vows they take, without exceptions. When complaints from every citizen are properly received, timely investigated and fairly resolved, past perceptions of fair and complete investigations will be put to rest.
Efforts to improve the system have spanned the tenures of at least three police chiefs, yet the results have been uneven and the Department’s “culture” has never been fully explored. The time is now to do so. A recent complaint of three North Charleston Police officers behaving in a disrespectful, uninterested and dismissive manner at one of the YWCA’S Racial Equity Institute training gives credence to the need to self-inspect what the North Charleston Police Department expects.
An independent audit for racial bias in North Charleston’s Police Department is an effective and even handed way to explore the Department’s operation in all communities and to implement change, if necessary. I’ve seen that happen with the Charleston Police Department.
The leadership of the City of Charleston was – to put it kindly – not initially enthused about an outside audit of the patterns and practice of their Police Department. They were, however supportive and transparent when that audit began and were diligent in seeing that the entire community had input. That audit did find that there were chronic concerns about racial bias that needed to be addressed.
Mayor John Tecklenburg and Chief Luther Reynolds accepted the audit’s findings and pledged to use them to shape the future of the Charleston Police Department. The results of that audit have included policy and practice changes, personnel actions when necessary, a new level of accountability and record keeping and a new level of trust across Charleston’s diverse communities.
Those changes and ongoing progress happened when people of good will – who initially disagreed – found common ground. People of good will in North Charleston should do the same. The City of Charleston’s police audit’s findings cannot simply be “borrowed” by North Charleston. They’re different cities with their own unique concerns. An independent audit will determine what’s broken and needs to be fixed in North Charleston’s police Department.
I urge the elected leadership of North Charleston to do the right thing and approve a police audit by a competent national firm. If all of the problems have been fixed, that’s a good thing. If a pattern of bias is discovered, the City can “own” it and use the audit findings to enhance changes that move our police department from Good to Great! When it comes to progress, there’s no such thing as too much information or too much sunlight.