The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office of the U.S. Department of Justice announced this week that it has accepted North Charleston city officials’ invitation to conduct an assessment of the city’s policing practices.  Specifically, the COPS Office will help city leaders to manage critical incidents, enhance community policing strategies, and increase community engagement efforts.

“Of course we are gratified and pleased that the COPS Office will provide an assessment of policing practices in North Charleston. This is an excellent first step,” says Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). “But the Department of Justice has been presented with clear and compelling evidence of racial profiling and the excessive use of force by North Charleston police officers,” Ifill continued. “We continue to urge the Justice Department to open a civil rights ‘pattern or practice investigation,’ which can produce a judicially-monitored consent decree, as the best way to ensure that reforms to policing practices are undertaken and enforced.” Ifill noted in particular that community members in North Charleston convened two town hall meetings at which residents presented in detail accounts of harassment, profiling and brutality in their encounters with local police officers.

In July of 2015, LDF, ACLU of South Carolina, the North Charleston Branch of the NAACP and over two dozen South Carolina leaders sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Lynch requesting a civil rights investigation of the North Charleston Police Department (NCPD) to determine if it has engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful policing.  Detailing cases involving allegations of police excessive use of force, including the police shooting death of Walter Scott and statistical evidence of racially-biased policing, we asserted that the most extensive investigation possible of the NCPD is warranted.    

In a letter dated April 26, 2016, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department indicated that it is “continuing to evaluate whether it is appropriate to open a pattern or practice investigation.”

“We welcome this response from the Civil Rights Division, which clarifies that the COPS Office review does not eliminate the possibility of a civil rights pattern or practice investigation,” says Shaundra Scott, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Carolina.  “We hope that the North Charleston community and leaders are closely involved with the COPS Office process and kept informed every step of the way. In the meantime, we will closely monitor the process.”

“The people of North Charleston deserve law enforcement that protects and values all of its communities,” says Ed Bryant, President, North Charleston Branch of the NAACP. “While the independent evaluation of the COPS program is welcomed, it will not solve the deprivation of constitutional rights that has occurred in the City of North Charleston. The only route to real change is through a pattern and practice investigation.”