NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Civil rights groups called for the Department of Justice to release its findings on the North Charleston Police Department.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, the North Charleston Chapter of the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups demanded the release of findings from the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, known as the COPS Program.
The groups have also scheduled a community meeting for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Alfred Williams Community Center on Durant Avenue.
The demands come after the Department of Justice notified North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers of "significant changes" being made to the program to provide "real-time technical assistance" to law enforcement agencies.
COPS issued a statement on Wednesday regarding the new focus of their program:
On March 31, 2017, Attorney General Sessions directed DOJ to review all of its programs involving local law enforcement, including Collaborative Reform, to ensure that they aligned with the goals of promoting "officer safety, officer morale, and public respect for their work," as well as ensuring that public safety remains under "local control and local accountability." In conducting this review, the COPS Office and DOJ leadership recognized the need to remodel Collaborative Reform so that its focus is on best practices, crime reduction, and the needs of the field as specifically requested by law enforcement agencies.
The COPS Office is pleased to announce that Collaborative Reform now will provide technical assistance to local law enforcement agencies who request subject matter expertise on any of the topics identified below. These technical assistance resources more consistently reflect the COPS Office authorizing statute and appropriations language regarding the delivery f technical assistance to law enforcement agencies across the country. To accomplish this, we plan to partner with one or more of the nation's leading law enforcement professional groups to provide practical, "by the field, for the field" technical assistance from leading experts in public safety and policing. These partners will be selected based on a competitive application process that will be open to law enforcement membership associations and groups. We are looking forward to working hand-in-hand with law enforcement agencies to implement this new vision.
Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance: 2017-2018 Topics:
Problem solving techniques and strategies targeting crime reduction, and in particular violent crimes, such as those involving gang activity and drugs
Use of gun violence prevention best practices to reorient from a reactive policing and crime response approach to proactive policing
A letter to Driggers from COPS Acting Director Russell Washington states the police department can either modify the agreement to reflect the "technical assistance focus" or terminate the agreement.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey issued a statement Wednesday in response to Washington's letter:
"Although changes have taken place within DOJ's COPS Office, we still anticipate valuable technical assistance resources and best practices guidelines to benefit our police department. The city signed on with DOJ voluntarily, so to meet the new goals of the COPS Office, we intend to modify our existing Memorandum of Agreement to properly reflect their new directives. We remain committed to collaborative reform and the North Charleston Citizens' Advisory Commission on Community – Police Relations."
The president of the North Charleston Citizens' Advisory Commission on Community-Police Relations said the commission would have liked to have a report of DOJ's findings. However, Keon Rhodan said not having the agency's expertise "will not hinder us."
Rhodan said so far the commission has made one recommendation to the police department, to have all on-duty supervisors wear body cameras.
The North Charleston Police Department entered into a partnership in a Collaborative Reform Initiative in September 2016.
The partnership began out of outcries from the community following the April 4, 2015, shooting of motorist Walter Scott by then-North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager and its aftermath. After a bystander's video of the incident became public, Slager was terminated from the department and charged with murder, and was later indicted on three federal charges.
On May 2, Slager pleaded guilty to the first count in the federal indictment, a charge that Slager deprived Scott of his civil rights by color of law. As part of a plea agreement, that guilty plea paves the way for additional federal and all state charges against him to be dropped.
Slager will not be sentenced until after a sentencing report is completed, a process that could take months. The maximum penalties of the offense, the agreement states, would be a prison term of up to life, a fine of up to $250,000 and five years of supervised release. There is no mandatory minimum prison sentence or fine.
No date has been set for Slager's sentencing hearing.