Monday, August 7, 2017

Research firm names three candidates to conduct racial bias audit of Charleston Police Department

City officials weigh their options

Posted by Dustin Waters on Mon, Aug 7, 2017 at 1:40 PM

click to enlarge Charleston's Public Safety Committee meets with Julia Novak of Novak Consulting Group to discuss subcontractors to conduct a racial bias audit of city police - DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
  • Charleston's Public Safety Committee meets with Julia Novak of Novak Consulting Group to discuss subcontractors to conduct a racial bias audit of city police
Charleston officials are now mulling over three potential candidates to conduct an assessment of possible racial bias in the Charleston Police Department.

During last Friday’s meeting of the city’s Public Safety Committee, Julia Novak of Novak Consulting Group presented city leaders with three recommendations for subcontractors to examine bias in the police department. Novak was originally hired in February to conduct a performance audit of all city operations. Novak’s appointment drew harsh criticism from members of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, who claimed that Novak lacked the necessary experience to examine racial bias among law enforcement agencies. The group called on city leaders to appoint a specialized contractor to examine city police.

In late June, Charleston City Council voted down an effort to hire another outside agency to look at racial bias within the Charleston Police Department, and it was instead decided that Novak would provide a list of three recommended subcontractors to conduct the assessment under the firm’s citywide audit.

The three candidates currently under consideration by the Public Safety Committee are RTI International, Dr. Jeff Rojek of the University of Texas at El Paso, and Dr. Robin Engel of the University of Cincinnati.

RTI International credits itself as an “independent, nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving the human condition,” with 12 U.S. offices and more than 4,700 staff members. RTI’s field of focus extends from education, energy research, environmental sciences, to justice policy and agriculture.

Rojek currently serves as associate professor of criminal justice at UTEP and previously worked as associate professor at the University of South Carolina. As director of UTEP’s Center for Law and Human Behavior, Rojek’s primary areas of study are “police officer and organization behavior.” His points of research include officer use of force, racial bias in traffic stops, and officer misconduct. In January, Rojek and his fellow researchers completed an assessment of racial disparities among traffic and pedestrian stops by the San Jose Police Department.

Dr. Engel serves as vice president of safety and reform and the director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police/University of Cincinnati Center for Police Research and Policy. Following the shooting of Samuel DuBose by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing, Engel was named to her vice presidency position at the university to oversee police reform.

Members of Charleston Public Safety Committee said on Friday that they will study their options and make a full recommendation to City Council in the coming weeks.

“As we think about this work, we see four components: One is understanding what the community’s experiences and expectations are for the police department. Another is understanding the police officers’ experience and expectations,” Novak told the committee. “Then we have data evaluation. So much of this work is going to be untangling the data, understanding it, and interpreting it. Then finally, we come up with solutions.”

While the scope of the audit on racial bias has yet to be determined, Mayor John Tecklenburg is preparing to present his performance innovation workplan to the members of City Council in August.

“We embarked about a year ago on something we call our performance innovation program. Council had hired Julia [Novak] to help us with that process,” said Tecklenburg. “We trained an internal team of nine city employees who went to Denver, Colo. — something called Peak Academy — to learn to analyze city processes, how they work, and how to make them better. For the last four or five months, we’ve been analyzing those areas of the city we want to concentrate on first. We’ve come up with a workplan for that effort.”

When asked how the audit on racial bias will fit into the overall citywide assessment Tecklenburg added, “This workplan will include 10 different areas to work on. One of them will be the police bias matter. So this auxiliary expert firm will help on just that one part of the 10-part workplan.”

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