Uniting police and community

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott. File

Tim Scott’s position as a U.S. senator from South Carolina hasn’t given him a pass. Like many other black men, he has been stopped by police — seven times in one year alone.

So the conservative Republican is weighing in on the long-simmering question of what role racial bias has in policing.

It’s a question worthy of his time and effort — and requiring involvement of both police and the community.

Police shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota last week ramped up that conversation across the nation, as did the shooting deaths of five police officers by a black man in Dallas who reportedly said he wanted to kill even more white people.

Fortunately, Charleston has been talking seriously about how to improve relations between police and citizens — particularly black citizens — for 10 months as its Illumination Project has heard from about 750 residents during listening sessions.

The Charleston Police Department has embraced the effort.

Chief Greg Mullen said, “I am tired of the death. I am tired of the hurt. I am tired of worrying every minute every day about who is going to be the next person killed in a police encounter.”

Already his department has made a few encouraging changes to improve communication and foster trust between officers and members of the community:

New recruits have been working with summer youth camps.

All but 10 percent of police policies are accessible on the department website.

And the department is developing a four-hour course to help citizens understand its procedures.

The Illumination Project is expected to present five goals and strategies next week to a citizen steering committee. They will be discussed publicly and taken to Charleston City Council in October, if all goes as planned.

North Charleston, shaken by last year’s shooting death of Walter Scott, who was black, by a white police officer, is also in search of answers. It has asked the Justice Department to review its policing practices to identify ways they could be improved.

President Barack Obama has taken up the cause. And South Carolina law now calls for police to wear body cameras.

Meanwhile, demonstrators across the country are continuing to demand change.

The overarching goal of establishing a trustworthy, mutually respectful relationship between police officers and citizens is the right one to pursue in this diverse community. Law enforcement officers need tools and insights to be effective and fair. Citizens need reason to trust that officers are doing their best to be equitable in the way they enforce laws.

Not doing this work of healing could be dangerous to individuals and to the community at large, if anger and distrust were to boil over.

Charleston and North Charleston both avoided violence in the wake of racially charged tragedies. Now both communities must be assured that their police departments will move forward with changes necessary to promote racial harmony.