The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and South Carolina civil rights leaders welcome the announcement by North Charleston’s Mayor and Chief of Police that they have invited the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office of the U.S. Department of Justice to assist with improving community-police relations. However, we remain steadfast in our belief that a federal pattern or practice investigation is necessary to adequately uncover and address any policing practices that have violated the civil rights of North Charleston residents.
Yesterday, City leaders sent a letter to the COPS Office asking for assistance with: assessing and improving public perceptions of policing practices; creating successful police/community panels; providing fair and impartial police training; and possibly undergoing a collaborative reform process. Through this process the COPS Office would conduct a comprehensive evaluation of policing practices, identified by city officials, which undermine public trust, such as officer-involved shootings.
“Without question the ongoing demand for a pattern or practice federal investigation by South Carolina leaders and LDF has led city officials to seek the assistance of the COPS Office. But, we are concerned that the work of this office may not go far enough,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director Counsel of LDF. “The criticisms of the North Charleston Police Department (NCPD) that city officials reference in their letter are not based on public perceptions, but lived experiences of physical abuse and questionable policing practices by NCPD officers toward African-American and Latino residents.”
At two public hearings hosted by LDF, the ACLU of South Carolina and the North Charleston Branch of the NAACP, city residents shared harrowing accounts of police abuses, including police use of force against students and racially-biased traffic stops. Indeed, the NCPD’s own data has revealed that it continues to stop a disproportionate number of African-American drivers without arresting them or issuing citations.
“Just this week, over 2,000 citizens attended a community forum hosted by the Charleston Area Justice Ministry where they reflected upon unfair, unjustifiable racial discrimination in policing,” said Edward Bryant, III, President of the North Charleston Branch of the NAACP. “We strongly reassert our position that a pattern or practice investigation is needed in our City. The world has asked, what has transpired after the police murder of Walter Scott?”
We fully expect the COPS Office to accept the invitation to conduct a collaborative reform of the NCPD’s policing practices. And, we know that doing so does not eliminate the possibility of a pattern or practice investigation. In fact, the former police commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department invited the COPS Office to conduct a collaborative reform process by reviewing the department’s use-of-force policies. After the police in-custody death of Freddie Gray, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice opened a pattern or practice investigation of that police department, which is underway.
“The U.S. Justice Department should conduct the most comprehensive probe possible, and the NCPD must acknowledge and address any problems uncovered if it truly wants to improve community-police relations,” says Shaundra Scott, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “Any assistance from the COPS Office will result in recommendations that city officials may or may not accept. A pattern or practice investigation could result in a court-ordered agreement between DOJ and the NCPD to improve policing practices, which would be monitored by a federal court. These elements are critical so that changes adopted by the NCPD will continue into the future and protect residents of North Charleston.”
“If the COPS Office accepts city officials’ invitation, then we encourage them to invite community input to determine the nature of policing problems and solutions,” added Louis Smith, Executive Director of the Community Resource Center.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.