Officers join N. Charleston residents to partner against crime
Police were out in dozens of Lowcountry neighborhoods Tuesday night, not to bust criminals but to gain the trust of residents.
N. Chas. crime rate since 2006
In 2006, Washington-based CQ Press named North Charleston as the seventh most-dangerous city in the nation. Since then, the North Charleston Police Department has touted its efforts to reduce crime. The last CQ study in 2010 ranked it the 70th most-dangerous city, and 2011 was one of the most tranquil years on record. Here are the numbers during that span.
Year Homicides Crime rate per 1,000 people
2006 28 0.32
2007 26 0.29
2008 14 0.15
2009 10 0.10
2010 12 0.12
2011 5 0.05
North Charleston Police Department
Officers and residents mingled as communities across the country marked National Night Out, an effort to strengthen ties between residents and police.
The effort was especially timely in North Charleston, where officers and residents have been working to reach a balance between ferreting out criminals and respecting the innocent, who sometimes have said they have felt harassed.
Police Chief Jon Zumalt, Deputy Chief Reggie Burgess and City Councilman Michael Brown attended a gathering in the Accabee community, a neighborhood near Azalea Road and Cosgrove Avenue.
Before sharing a meal and playing games, police told residents they need their help to fight crime. Residents at the meeting said they appreciate that police are trying to get to know them, although one community leader said more work needs to be done.
Zumalt said police can't solve crimes without help from residents.
“What I worry about is people who get inside their house and close their doors and pull down the shades and hope something doesn't happen,” he told a crowd of several dozen before the meal. “We can't operate like that. We have to look out for each other.”
Burgess echoed the chief's message.
“We work for you guys,” Burgess said. “It's all about partnership. We cannot do anything to make the community safe without you guys standing behind us.”
Burgess said later that most of the time when a resident complains of harassment, it's because an officer didn't make an effort to explain himself.
“If you have to make a traffic stop, tell them why,” he said. “Most complaints that we get are (poor) communication.”
Officer Ruben Potts is the neighborhood's community resource officer. He said he works hard to gain trust.
“It's all about respect,” he said. “It's all about the approach.”
Latarsha Giles, 36, is president of Concerned Citizens of Accabee, a neighborhood watch group. She said she was glad to see the police department working to gain residents' trust, but wasn't ready to say she's completely happy.
“I think it's very important that we have a relationship with the police officers,” she said. “This is a predominantly black neighborhood. The relationship and the rapport have not been that good with the police officers. We want them to treat us like we're human beings. We don't want to feel like criminals coming into our neighborhood when we haven't done anything. That's very important to us.”
On the other hand, Donta Bowens, 33, also a lifetime resident and a youth sports coach, said he thinks police are doing a good job, and he encourages young people to work with them.
The police department trains new officers to work with minorities, spokesman Spencer Pryor said. New officers meet with black community leaders to hear their concerns.
“Then they go out into the neighborhoods to meet residents and attend neighborhood association meetings to hear from residents about their perception of the police department and how the community and department can work together,” he said.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.
Editor's note: North Charleston Police Chief Jon Zumalt's name was misspelled in earlier versions of this story. The Post and Courier regrets the error.