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NORTH CHARLESTON — Four South Carolina activist groups and the family of Walter Scott are urging the city to create an independent body to oversee the implementation of the recommendations found in the recent racial bias audit.

  • By Jocelyn Grzeszczak and Rickey Ciapha Dennis Jr.

The organizations include the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Charleston’s Black Lives Matter chapter and the American Civil Liberties Union. In a letter read to City Council last month, the organizations said they believe public oversight is needed to ensure that the city maximizes its ability to reduce racial disparities in the police department.

“The city has invested substantial taxpayer funds in the audit process and is accountable to the community for those expenditures,” Suzanne Hardie, with CAJM, said. “We urge City Council to establish this independent body, which should include members of the public who are invested in equitable public safety practices.”

The city contracted with Virginia-based CNA for $283,000 to audit the agency. The report, finalized last fall, found racial disparities in many department practices, including field interviews, use of force, arrests and traffic stops. The audit offered more than 100 recommendations in areas of law enforcement operations, community-oriented policing practices, complaints, hiring, training and accountability. 

The report also recommended the city revisit the concept of a community advisory committee “with the goal of re-establishing such a board.”

Chief Reggie Burgess has begun gathering necessary information to create a citizens group, city spokesman Ryan Johnson said. 

“Nothing has been formalized,” Johnson said.

City Council members welcomed greater public involvement.

  • By Rickey Ciapha Dennis Jr. and Steve Garrison

Councilman Bob King, who chairs the city’s Public Safety Committee, said he particularly wants to see the entire police department embrace the concept of community policing. The racial bias audit found some members of the agency either didn’t understand community policing or haven’t fully welcomed the idea.

“I think the management of the police department needs to implement some type of system to make sure everybody is on the (community policing) wavelength,” King said. “If everybody has their own agenda, you’re not going to get anything accomplished. They need to be serious about that. I think the chief is doing that.”

Burgess welcomes the idea of increased community participation. The chief is open to having members of the public help implement some of the recommendations suggested by CNA in the audit, said Harve Jacobs, a police spokesman.

The city created a citizens advisory commission in 2017 that sought to improve police department transparency. This came two years after Walter Scott, a Black man, was murdered by a White police officer while Scott fled during a traffic stop. The officer is serving time in a federal prison.

The citizens group, made up of community members, was disbanded in 2019 after calling on the city to conduct a racial bias audit of its police department.

Activists say the city also needs a permanent group overseeing law enforcement. That organization would be similar to the citizens group that existed years ago. The new group should have more authority, such as subpoena powers, Hardie said.

Social justice advocates are concerned with the audit’s implementation. Part of their concern is driven by their displeasure at the way CNA handled the racial bias report.

Community groups met with CNA frequently throughout the auditing process to try to get the nonprofit company to engage directly with impacted communities in North Charleston, Hardie said. 

The finalized audit showed the firm still didn’t interview enough North Charleston residents for its report, and CNA often ignored activists’ recommendations for additional residents to engage, Hardie said.

CNA did extend the audit’s public comment period after it came under fire from City Council for lack of attendance at some of its community gatherings during the audit.

CNA didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Jocelyn Grzeszczak contributed to this report.

This content was originally published here.

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