New team of Charleston police officers to focus on building community bond


A new team of police officers will tackle crime trends and work on strengthening their bond with residents in parts of Charleston's Neck Area and upper peninsula, agency officials said Friday.

The Community Action Team, which consists of a sergeant and eight officers, had been in the works long before 19-year-old Denzel Curnell died of a gunshot wound June 20 in Bridgeview Village, one of the neighborhoods the unit will focus on.

The Charleston Police Department's response to the death, which was later ruled a suicide, had been criticized because the agency refused for weeks to release information about his encounter with Officer Jamal Medlin, an off-duty Community Acton Team member for the city's East Side. Community activists said the ordeal strained the department's ties with residents.

But the new team, largely funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant, will join others in East Side neighborhoods of the peninsula to supplement regular patrols and build partnerships with residents and business owners, the department said in a statement.

Parts of the plan include taking up quality-of-life problems, such as crime issues associated with abandoned buildings, starting a domestic violence program and hosting job fairs in Bridgeview. The team also will serve the Rosemont and Athens Court neighborhoods.

Community Action Teams already have been employed in parts of West Ashley, including the Ardmore, Ashleyville and Maryville areas, which have struggled with crime in the past.

Sgt. Damien Seabrook, the new unit's supervisor, said its members are getting to know people in areas of the upper peninsula.

"We want them to know they can come to us and tell us about anything that's going on their community," Seabrook said. "Our goal is to improve the relationship between the police and the citizens."

Police spokesman Charles Francis said the team's proactive efforts to form partnerships and solve problems that lead to criminal activity will augment the patrol officers whose proactive measures had already reduced violent crime.

Some advocates have faulted certain efforts, though, such as the "stop and frisk" program that was scrutinized in Curnell's case.

Curnell first caught the attention of an off-duty police officer who noticed his heavy clothing, including a hooded sweatshirt, despite the summertime heat.

Under the agency's policy, officers might consider a possible suspect's clothing in deciding whether there is reasonable suspicion to believe that the person might be involved in criminal activity and might be armed.

Critics have raised questions about whether the practice runs contrary to the Fourth Amendment's provisions against unreasonable searches, and attorneys for the S.C. Senate Judiciary Committee are expected to ponder the policy's constitutional implications.

Curnell later refused to take his hand out of his pocket, which contained a gun. During an ensuing struggle, authorities said, he shot himself in the head.

For weeks, as state agents investigated the death, the department declined to release basic information that might have allayed accusations against the officer.

Charleston leaders had planned to implement the new team for Bridgeview during 2014, but when asked whether its inception had anything to do with the Curnell situation, Francis referred The Post and Courier to past news coverage about the city's budget.

The new unit will be funded mostly under the federal Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, grant, but the city will chip in $150,000 for the first year.

"These officers work in these areas every day," Police Chief Greg Mullen said in a statement. "They're very proactive, and they get involved with children's programs and do what they can to prevent crime in these neighborhoods."

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