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Community wants transparency as North Charleston moves on police racial bias audit

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North Charleston City hall tight.jpg (copy) (copy)

North Charleston City Hall Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in North Charleston. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Community leaders applauded North Charleston after it took further steps toward a long-awaited racial bias audit of the Police Department but emphasized the need for a transparent process.

The City Council Police Evaluation Committee voted unanimously Thursday night to bring in Virginia-based CNA, which recently conducted an audit of the Charleston Police Department, to provide a proposal on the scope of the audit. 

Council members Rhonda Jerome, Bob King, Jerome Heyward and Mike Brown voted in favor. Councilman Sam Hart was absent.

Once CNA provides its proposal, a decision to hire the firm to do the audit will need council's approval, said Councilman Bob King.

Thursday's decision waives the standard three-company and seven-month long bidding process. It expedites efforts to examine the city's law enforcement amid a backdrop of increased demands nationally and locally for police reform.

The decision was met with mixed reactions from community leaders and King, who are glad to see progress being made toward evaluating the city's law enforcement agency. But some wonder whether not looking at multiple firms is the best decision. 

Marcus McDonald with Charleston's Black Lives Matter movement feels the city could have gone with a hybrid option, where officials talk with CNA while conducting community surveys and looking at other firms. 

He said the city could do more to make the process more transparent, such as live-streaming the audit meetings.

A video of Thursday's audit meeting is on the city's Facebook page, but videos of last month's police evaluation meetings are not.

McDonald said he feels some mistakes were made with the audit of Charleston Police Department, including the audit's lack of a specific timeline for some of the recommendations and its suggestions on how to protect whistleblowers. He said he feels North Charleston has the chance to get it right and set an example that could be followed by other cities throughout the state.

"I feel like a lot of the grievances on the Charleston audit were that some of the recommendations didn't really fix the problem, and they were just lighthearted recommendations and not really hitting the root of the issue," he said.

“We have a race problem," he said. "That’s something we really can escape.”

The decision comes more than a month after city officials withdrew a proposal to hire the National Police Foundation to conduct a review of the department. Officials felt the city should instead look at several firms.

City officials had since drafted two proposals — one by city staff and another by Councilman Jerome Heyward — that would look at areas to be examined within the department.

Instead of accepting either of the proposals, city officials agreed Thursday to have CNA outline a scope and advise the city on how to move forward. The company would essentially be on track to conduct the city's audit, but city officials could still scrap the plan and seek another firm during the process, city officials said.

King, who voted down an initial motion to bring in CNA before changing course in the later vote, felt the committee should have reached out to different companies.

Moving forward, he's in favor of a public hearing that will allow the public to see CNA's plan for reviewing the department.

“I don’t think we’ve got anything to hide," King said.

North Charleston resident Jerod Frazier agreed the scope of work should be shared with the public before it's adopted by city officials. Five years after the killing of Walter Scott, a Black man, by Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer, Frazier is happy to see progress being made toward an audit.

"We've been at this a while," he said.

The decision to bring in CNA was also backed by Mayor Keith Summey and Chief Reggie Burgess.

Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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