CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) addressed what it calls "racial discrimination" by Charleston area law enforcement Wednesday afternoon at North Charleston City Hall.
Last year, North Charleston's police practicing was the groups focus. CAJM members stated today they are happy with the progress made in the North Charleston area.
"The police foundation, based in Washington D.C., was contracted to do the North Charleston Police Department Assessment. The police foundation has experience in auditing police departments for bias," CAJM co-president Reverend Jeremy Rutledge said.
"There is still a racial disparity, but it is not as high as the 2-1 ratio it once was," CAJM member Mavis Huger added.
CAJM members delivered a letter to North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey's office. In the letter, they requested a meeting to discuss how to continue on this positive path.
"We encourage Mayor Summey and the City of North Charleston to keep pushing forward in this area," Rutledge said.
The main concern during this press conference was the city of Charleston's Police Department and the ongoing city audit. Although CAJM members say they are pleased with the city holding efficiency audits in all areas, they believe a separate firm is needed to conduct research specifically on racial bias and discrimination.
"What we want Charleston to find out is if there is bias within it's policing practices. If so, then the next step would be to address that. Even with North Charleston, once their audit is completed there are further steps to be taken," CAJM board member Arthur McFarland said.
The city of Charleston released the city's contract with the Novak Consulting group. This firm is performing the police department's audit. In the contract, the firm repeatedly states that they will explore police bias and investigative data saying quote, "we should be working with the city to understand if patterns exist that suggest bias, and at the same time looking at why those patterns exist."
The audit also details the 16 other police departments across the Country that Novak was worked with.
The City of Charleston's performance assessment in full:
The CAJM press release in its entirety:
The Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) will hold a press conference on racial discrimination in policing practices. The press conference, which is open to the public, will be held at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 23, 2017 in front of North Charleston City Hall at 2500 City Hall. CAJM is a nonprofit network of 30 Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations/organizations throughout the Charleston community that come together to speak with one powerful voice for justice in our community.
In the fall 2015 and in 2016, hundreds of CAJM members voted to work addressing racial discrimination in policing and then volunteered thousands of hours to research best practices from across the country to build trust between the community and police. Trust is the key to making the community safer and the work of officers less hazardous.
At CAJM's 2016 Nehemiah Action over 2,000 people gathered to speak with one voice in support of the identified solutions including an independent, external police audit for bias and a reduction in the discriminatory stops that impact thousands.
Charleston officials, including Mayor Tecklenburg were in attendance but many North Charleston officials were not. However, just a few days after CAJM's Nehemiah Action, Mayor Summey announced he was inviting the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) division to conduct the Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance (CRI-TA) assessment of the North Charleston Police Department. The Police Foundation was contracted to conduct that assessment and was found to be experienced in the area of evaluating Police Departments for areas such as bias. North Charleston has also cut their amount of public contact stops in half.
The city of Charleston now leads the state in the number of public contact stops conducted by police officers with African-Americans being stopped at a 2-1 ratio to whites. Thousands of African-Americans being stopped unnecessarily erodes trust in the police department and must be addressed. Charleston has hired two firms to conduct a performance and efficiency audit of all city departments, the Novak Consulting Group and Raftelis Financial Consultants. As The Post & Courier reported, "Susan Poteat, the city's process and service improvement director, said Novak specializes in working with municipal leaders, while Raftelis focuses on public services like storm water management and garbage collection." These are areas that should be addressed in Charleston and these firms have that experience and expertise. But they have no prior experience or expertise in auditing police departments for bias and cannot be counted on to do the in depth work needed to get at the root issues of bias specifically in the police department.
CAJM gives constructive critique where needed and commendation when positive progress is seen. "In the work of justice, there are no permanent friends or enemies, just partners in the work. What matters most is finding those who can help us respond to the needs of the people." CAJM Co-President Jeremy Rutledge stated. North Charleston is off to a good start and CAJM commends them for the start but waits to see tangible results- a comprehensive, in depth report released soon that can provide the community with the transparency needed in order to begin the process of building trust.
Mayor Tecklenburg in Charleston however, continues to insist that a company specializing in storm water management and garbage collection is the best company to provide an in depth audit of the police department. CAJM calls on Charleston to conduct an audit specifically for bias in the police department with a top rated police auditing firm with the expertise necessary to produce a report that both the city and police department can trust. Anything less will erode trust in both the police department and city government. CAJM is committed to work with and support both cities for concrete and meaningful ways to build trust with the community.
In the years since its 2011 inception, CAJM's advocacy has won 280 additional slots for Charleston County School District's early childhood development program, engaged local law enforcement agencies to reduce the incarceration of non-violent juvenile offenders, pressed the School District to enact evidence-based programs to reduce suspensions and won funding for a Wage Recovery Program from Charleston County Council to help workers recover stolen wages.
The City of Charleston released the following statement:
"After a competitive bidding process that was conducted in accordance with city procurement laws, the City of Charleston has hired a nationally recognized firm to conduct an equity-based police audit of the kind CAJM has requested. This is in addition to the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) audit process that the Charleston Police Department recently completed, and which resulted in a recommendation for reaccreditation at the highest level. We look forward to reviewing the data and analyses from both of these audits, and will continue to work with our outstanding police officers, community leaders and citizens to keep our city safe with equitable and effective police practices and procedures."–City of Charleston spokesperson Jack O'Toole