Justice Ministry urging city council to hire new firm to audit police department

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - An organization that monitors police practices is demanding that the City of Charleston hire a new firm to do an audit of the police department.

The Charleston Justice Ministry says the current firm hired by the city isn't qualified to determine if there's racial bias in the police department.

Mayor John Tecklenburg wants to allow the current firm, Novak Consulting Firm, to subcontract with another firm that specializes in evaluating police practices.

The Justice Ministry says that's not good enough. They say the city has refused to allow public input by the organization.

Co-President Rev. Charles Heyward says that's a farce because it was the Justice Ministry that called for the audit in the first place.

The organization supports a proposal by City Councilman James Lewis that calls for the city to hire a new consultant for the audit and leave the current firm out of the process totally.

Monday afternoon the city through spokesman Jack O'Toole responded to the Justice Ministry's claims.

At today's press conference, the Charleston Area Justice Ministry essentially made three claims with regard to the city of Charleston and its police department's upcoming bias-based policing audit. Below are the claims as we understand them (in italics), followed by the city's responses.

Novak Consulting, the firm hired to do the city's performance audit, is unqualified do a bias-based policing audit.

In February of this year, Novak was hired to oversee a government-wide performance audit, in the same way that a general contractor is hired to oversee the overall process of building a house.

In this role, Novak is responsible for hiring subcontractors with appropriate expertise in specific areas, in the same way that a general contractor hires electricians, HVAC experts, etc.

In fact, Novak is currently in the process of hiring a leading national firm in the area of bias-based policing to work with them on the bias-based audit of the CPD.

The practice of using a "general contractor" approach is standard in large-scale city projects. For example, the firm recently hired to oversee the development of the West Ashley Master Plan has partnered with expert subcontractors in the areas of transportation, drainage, economic development and more.

CAJM has heard "countless stories" of racial bias by the Charleston Police Department.

Since January of 2015, there have been no citizen complaints of racial bias filed against the Charleston Police Department.

In order to address CAJM's concerns, the city must issue a bias-based audit Request for Proposal based on Madison, Wisconsin's 2015 bias-based audit RFP.

The Novak contract has already been bid out through the city's regular procurement process and assigned to Novak at a total, citywide audit cost of $250,000.  The Novak-led audit will include a bias-based audit of the CPD, conducted by a firm with nationally-recognized expertise in the area. For comparison purposes, the Madison RFP was filled at a taxpayer cost of $400,000.

City Council is scheduled to vote on both the mayor's and Councilman Lewis' proposal at their meeting tomorrow night.

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