Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Charleston city leaders clash over specialized audit for racial bias in police department

Councilman Waring: ‘Politics won tonight’

Posted by Dustin Waters on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 1:38 PM

click to enlarge DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
The ongoing debate between Charleston Area Justice Ministry and Charleston officials boiled over during Tuesday evening’s meeting of City Council.

For months, CAJM members have demanded that a specialized firm conduct an assessment of possible racial bias within the Charleston Police Department. Citing statistics that show that Charleston leads the state in the number of public contact stops — investigatory stops not ending in a citation or arrest — CAJM says a significant disparity exists between the number of African Americans stopped compared to the rest of the population.

Members of City Council have already approved a wide-reaching audit of all city departments, which includes a look at policing bias. CAJM has argued that Novak Consulting Group, the firm overseeing the police assessment, lacks the necessary expertise to determine racial bias.

In response to CAJM’s demands, Councilman James Lewis submitted a resolution calling on the city to hire a specialized firm to audit the police department, modeling the assessment after one requested by the city of Madison, Wisc. Prior to City Council’s 5-7 vote against Lewis’ resolution, Mayor John Tecklenburg took the opportunity to voice his frustrations with the members of CAJM as it relates to the call for a specialized firm.

“We’re going to do an audit. There’s a need for accountability, but y’all have really denigrated our police force. And I don’t appreciate it,” said Tecklenburg, during a more than 30-minute response to CAJM members who addressed City Council Tuesday evening. “I think you’ve insulted our police chief, and I think you’ve insulted our police department. And I think that was improper and incorrect.”

In arguing for the current effectiveness of the Charleston Police Department, Tecklenburg said that violent crime is down 6 percent over the last year and citizen complaints against officers have declined from 33 complaints in 2014 to 15 complaints in 2016. The mayor applauded the department’s early implementation of body cameras and the continued work of the Illumination Project.

Carrying the support of a majority of City Council members, Tecklenburg stated that city leaders would instruct Novak to begin a search for a subcontractor specializing in racial bias audits on police departments.

Among the members of City Council who voted in favor of Councilman Lewis’ unsuccessful resolution were also the same Charleston officials who promised to support such an effort during CAJM’s Nehemiah Action Assembly in April. The other council members supporting Lewis’ resolution were Robert Mitchell, Marvin Wagner, William Dudley Gregorie, and Keith Waring. Councilman Gary White was not present for Tuesday’s vote.

Prior to the vote, Councilman Lewis voiced his concerns over the alleged actions of other members of council. According to Lewis, he submitted his resolution to the clerk of council’s office, but two unnamed council members entered the clerk’s office and requested copies of the resolution, which was disseminated prior to being added to City Council’s agenda.

“I don’t know the reason, but sitting on this council, I have the right to present a resolution to this city — whether they agree with it or not. For council members to come and try to undermine what I do because they don’t like what I do, I think that’s not right. We are elected officials. We have a right to our opinions,” said Lewis, who said that his resolution was in no way an attack on retiring Police Chief Greg Mullen.

Councilman Waring reiterated that the call for a specialized auditing firm wasn’t about Mullen’s job as the head of police. Waring did question the procurement process that led to the selection of Novak as the firm to examine the police department’s practices. Waring bemoaned the lack of diversity among Novak’s staff as well as the committee responsible for selecting Novak, a decision that was approved by City Council. Toward the close of Tuesday’s meeting, Tecklenburg agreed to name Waring as the head of the committee tasked with re-evaluating the city’s procurement process for outside firms in the future.

“To put a process in place that is going to assess the performance and best practices of every department in the city and not have any minorities involved in that process, that’s not transparent, Mr. Mayor. And that you should be ashamed of,” said Waring.
He later added, “Politics won tonight. Not fair and openness. Not inclusion. Not unity.”

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