NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Gov. Henry McMaster and U.S. Tim Scott addressed a police reform bill Scott introduced in the U.S. Senate at a Monday news conference in North Charleston.
Scott said we must understand where we go as a nation “in this very important moment as it relates to the necessary relationship between law enforcement and communities of color.”
"What is not necessary is a binary choice in that relationship," he said. "We don't have to be either for law enforcement, or for communities of color. We have learned at home, and we're trying to teach the world that you can actually be for both."
The first step in that direction, Scott said, is reform.
“The second step in that direction is accountability and that to me means training, training, training, and more resources so that we have the tools at our disposal to lead to the healthiest outcomes possible,” he said.
He said the journey began for him in earnest in 2015 with the death of Walter Scott, who was shot to death by a former North Charleston Police officer during a traffic stop. A bystander video shot on a cellphone disputed the official account of how the shooting happened.
“I’ve always said that if a picture is worth 1000 words that a video is worth 1000 pictures,” Scott said. “Had it not been for the camera that action would not have been real.”
Scott said accountability is an important part of his JUSTICE Act and said the law would support more resources for body cameras. Scott said studies have found body cameras help de-escalate tense situations and can provide a 90% improvement in outcomes and a 60% reduction in the use of force.
North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess said Scott’s bill is a policy will make policing “a whole lot better for all, everybody.”
“When I swore my oath in 1989, I raised my hand and I said this: ‘I recognize my badge as a symbol of public trust, and I shall strive to justify this trust,’” Burgess said. “And I’ve been trying to do it on for 31 years. And I truly believe that [with Scott’s legislation], we will get there. But we’ve got to do it together.”
Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon said the word "training" is brought up every time something negative involving police comes to light.
"Yet at this state, the General Assembly has continuously underfunded the South Carolina criminal justice system, and that needs to stop," Cannon said.
He said 60% of the academy's funding comes from traffic tickets, which he says is unacceptable.
“I’ve made that point in Columbia and they do nothing,” Cannon said. “If nothing else comes out of this, and we don’t adequately fund the academy, we’re going to continue having problems because they’re barely able to complete the basic recruit training that is required by law. We’ve all suffered as a result of that.”
Scott introduced the JUSTICE ACT Wednesday to address police reform. The law would provide for greater accountability and transparency among law enforcement officers, Scott said.
“The murder of George Floyd and its aftermath made clear from sea to shining sea that action must be taken to rebuild lost trust between communities of color and law enforcement,” Scott said on Wednesday. “The JUSTICE Act takes smart, commonsense steps to address these issues, from ending the use of chokeholds and increasing the use of body worn cameras, to providing more resources for police departments to better train officers and make stronger hiring decisions.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham said the proposal “reinforces the need for better community policing, best practices and creating more transparency when it comes to reporting encounters with law enforcement throughout the country.”
“The JUSTICE Act strengthens the training methods and tactics throughout law enforcement jurisdictions, especially regarding de-escalation of force and the duty to intervene, providing law enforcement with new funding to do so, and will also end the practice of utilizing chokeholds,” a release from Scott’s office states. “Additionally, the bill will reform hiring practices by providing more resources to ensure the makeup of police departments more closely matches the communities they serve.”
A provision of the act also ensures that when a law enforcement officer candidate is interviewed, the hiring agency will have access to the candidate’s prior disciplinary records.
The JUSTICE Act will also put more body cameras on the streets and ensure that departments are both using the cameras and storing their data properly. It will also require a report establishing best practices for the hiring, firing, suspension, and discipline of law enforcement officers.
The bill would make lynching a federal crime and create two commissions to study and offer solutions to a broader range of challenges facing black men and boys, and the criminal justice system as a whole.