GREENE COLUMN: North Charleston police build goodwill
Police Chief Jon Zumalt wishes more people knew about his department’s efforts to do the right thing in North Charleston.
He talks about a drug-intervention program, where so far eight kids in Charleston Farms were kept out of jail for minor offenses. Officers worked with them, and several have jobs and GEDs.
The TV show “Dateline” is expected to spotlight the program, possibly next month.
That’s one of about 15 programs the department has implemented, including Cool to Be in School, police attendance at community meetings, and follow-up visits with residents for feedback on how police handled themselves. Additionally, officers’ in-car videos are reviewed to ensure they behaved professionally.
These proactive measures will go a long way toward promoting goodwill. Police actions in the field, how they behave when they have residents “under the gun,” so to speak, becomes the face of the North Charleston Police Department.
Positive police steps
Zumalt meets with officers several times a year to make sure their actions are fair, legitimate and respectful.
When they fail to meet standards, he dismisses them. He has fired about 100 officers in 11 years, including an officer who shot himself in July and lied about it. Police were dispatched to search for a black male suspect.
After that incident, North Charleston NAACP President Ed Bryant suggested police get sensitivity training. New officers already receive diversity and sensitivity training, Zumalt said. Community leaders are brought in to talk about neighborhood issues; officers go door to door to hear concerns and perceptions of police.
Jerod Frazier, who’s on the police department’s community panel, said the chief is making good efforts to improve the community, but Zumalt has a “long row to hoe” because there is “so much (bad) history with the department that he has to overcome.”
Zumalt said he receives one complaint to every 5,962 contacts and every complaint is investigated; police hand out cards on how to report concerns (or offer compliments): 740-2827 or northcharleston.org.
Police saturated Wescott subdivision off Dorchester Road a while back because of auto break-ins. The mostly white residents there complained about being repeatedly stopped for speeding, Zumalt said, just like the residents of other neighborhoods complain about similar saturation efforts.
The Charleston NAACP repeatedly has voiced concerns about the financial impact of large fines for minor offenses on low-income communities. So, in 70 percent of stops for minor violations, police give warning tickets.
“I am proud of that,” Zumalt said.
The programs show good-faith effort and can help assure good police work on the streets.
Police on the front lines can bring about the biggest gain in how they approach residents.
If they start with respect, mostly, it will be returned. Residents, too, must play a part by being respectful to police and using them as a tool to help clean up their neighborhoods.
A progressive police department and concerned communities must keep trying together to make things work. Everyone benefits when they do.