U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles discusses the Department of Justice's review and assessment of the North Charleston Police Department
North Charleston will become the 11th city in the United States to undergo a policing review by the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Police Chief Eddie Driggers requested the assessment in April, but some are calling for more than a voluntary examination of the department.
In the coming months, the COPS Office will oversee what is known as a collaborative reform initiative in North Charleston. According to Chief Noble Wray, the COPS Office will enlist contractors to conduct interviews with officers, community leaders, and citizens, compile information, and prepare recommendations for improving police practices in the city. Following an initial assessment, the office will release a report to the public detailing its findings and suggested changes. The COPS Office will continue to examine the department’s implementation of their recommendations for an 18-month period, releasing a progress report and final assessment along the way. The process is estimated to last a little more than two years.
“Every law enforcement agency in the United States should be about transformation. That is how we improve. We know that communities change. We know internally things change. That’s why we are here,” Wray said Tuesday during a joint press conference with North Charleston officials. “It is not a short-term solution for serious deficiencies, but rather a long-term strategy that first identifies issues with an agency that may affect public trust and then offers specific recommendations based on a comprehensive assessment for how to resolve those issues and enhance relationships between the department and the communities it serves.”
Last year, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the North Charleston branch of the NAACP sent a formal request to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, calling for a pattern-or-practice investigation of North Charleston officers and alleging unconstitutional policing in the city. Unlike a pattern-or-practice investigation, which examines civil rights violations and enables the Department of Justice to force departments into reform, agency participation is voluntary with a collaborative reform initiative. The COPS Office was approximately six months into its review of the Baltimore Police Department in 2015 when Freddie Gray died in police custody, after which the Justice Department began a pattern-or-practice investigation of the city’s department.
Chief Noble Wray of the COPS Office
The COPS Office developed the collaborative reform initiative in 2011. Las Vegas is currently the only city to have completed the process. According to the Final Assessment Report of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department published in 2014, the department had initiated and completed 90 percent of the reforms recommended. These changes included a mandatory minimum requirement of de-escalation training for officers, regularly required updates to the department’s use of force policy, and an annual report on officer-involved shootings. Of the recommended changes, the department refused to require that those investigating officer-involved shootings film all interviews with the involved officers. In the case of North Charleston, Mayor Summey says he intends to spend the remainder of his current term in office following through with the recommendations that stem from the assessment.
“I’ve been here 21 years now as mayor. I’ve got three and a half left in this term, and my goal is to get these ideas and concepts in place before I decide whether I am going to run again or retire,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to look at ourselves by having other people look at us.”
Summey added, “We know that there will be costs in the end, not in the planning stage, but in the end there will be costs to implement a lot of this. We’re willing to sit down and work those things out so that they become a reality once we get the concepts and ideas.”
During Tuesday's press conference, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina Bill Nettles alluded to the death of Walter Scott and told reporters that the collaborative reform initiative is a clear sign that the federal government has acknowledged a call from the people of North Charleston.
“This is how democracy works. There was a tragedy. There was a call from the community, and the government heard it,” said Nettles. “The beauty of this is the transparent report. The community will get to decide whether the report went far enough. The community will get to decide whether the government goes far enough in adopting the report.”