The city of North Charleston has hired former U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles to facilitate the newly formed Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Community-Police Relations, at least for the first meeting or two.
City Attorney Brady Hair said it's important for the commission to operate independently from the city. And the city can't be seen as trying to influence the group in any way. However, a 25-member group likely needs some kind of facilitator to help it get organized.
"This is an offer to make someone available if they choose to use him," Hair said. After the first meeting or two, the group could decide to continue using Nettles' services, find another facilitator or not to use an outside facilitator.
The panel was formed partly as a response to the 2015 fatal shooting of Walter Scott by North Charleston officer Michael Slager. But some residents have questioned how effective it will be because it lacks subpoena powers.
"I'm thrilled to have Bill help the city," Hair said. "It's a new group and a diverse group, and Bill is uniquely qualified."
Nettles, who retired in June from his position as South Carolina's U.S. attorney, said he has longtime connections with the city of North Charleston and was pleased to be asked to have a role in the commission.
In 2011, Nettles started a statewide "community policing" initiative, and it began in North Charleston. Such programs strive to encourage communities to become more a part of the law enforcement process and police to recognize that they are part of the communities they serve. The initiative, which steered entry-level dealers into a jobs program, later received national attention.
The "war on drugs" led communities to sometimes see police as "occupiers" and law enforcement to see communities as "the enemy," Nettles said. Community policing is an effort to turn that around.
He plans to start work with the commission by helping members focus on common ground, he said. "What happens a lot of the time — and this is an unfortunate consequence of confrontational politics — is we focus on our differences."
He thinks the community is open to doing things differently, he said. And, he added, "North Charleston is not the type of (police) department that is unwilling to change, and that should be heartening to the community."
Commission member Gayle Frampton, president of the North East Park Circle Civic Club, said she doesn't know Nettles. But she thinks hiring a facilitator sounds like a good plan.
"I think we probably will need a little nudging to get started."
Hair said the commission's first meeting hasn't yet been scheduled. But that will happen in the next few weeks.
The North Charleston Police Department also will offer to make presentations to the group on issues such as: the hiring process for officers, the training process and how the department handles complaints from the public.
Nettles said he thinks the commission has a good chance of success.
"But for this to work, everybody is going to have to come willing to compromise some."