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North Charleston officials to draft proposal for racial bias audit of police department

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North Charleston police montague ave.jpg (copy)

North Charleston Police on Montague Avenue near the Rivers Avenue exit Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in North Charleston. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

North Charleston city officials voted unanimously on Monday to take the first steps toward a long-requested racial bias audit of the police department. 

The city's Police Research Evaluation Committee will be putting together a proposal on the scope of the audit. The meeting follows a contentious one held last week in which some North Charleston City Council members briefly moved to approve a proposal to hire the National Police Foundation to complete a "holistic review" of the police department. 

That proposal was eventually withdrawn in favor of looking at multiple firms. 

After the scope of work is determined, city officials can take the next steps toward ultimately hiring a firm for the probe. 

During a public comment segment of Monday's meeting, several community members praised North Charleston officials for not moving forward hastily and for taking time to consider multiple options. 

Eugene Richardson, a city resident, said that he was grateful that city officials withdrew the original plan to hire the Police Foundation. 

"In my line of work, you don't bid on a project until you see the scope of that work," said Richardson, who told city officials that he works in the construction industry. 

He also told city officials he believes whatever the scope of the audit ends up being, it needs to include an examination of school resource officers — an area that a similar audit of the Charleston Police Department completed last year did not examine. 

Black students are more likely to be arrested at school than their white peers, Richardson said. 

"Let's approve a scope of work that the community supports," he said. "Let's do this the right way so we don't have to come back again." 

Had council members approved the Police Foundation for the job, the cost would have been $100,000 to $150,000, according to a report by city staff. 

North Charleston Councilman Jerome Heywood invited Charleston Councilman Keith Waring to speak briefly.

Waring told the officials that when Charleston went through the planning process for the audit, it sent out a proposal containing the scope of work — what areas the auditing firm would examine — distributed a request for qualified firms to contact the city and submit examples of prior police department audits they'd done.

Charleston got 11 proposals back and a committee whittled that list down to three firms, which competed for the final bid, Waring said. Ultimately, city officials chose Virginia-based firm CNA. 

During the public comment segment of the meeting, representatives from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and from the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina read letters aloud. 

Both the ACLU and the Legal Defense Fund said they stood with North Charleston residents in calling for an audit, and both commented on the current civil unrest fueled by police killings of African American men and women. 

The civil rights groups urged North Charleston officials to fund an independent and comprehensive racial bias audit of the city's police department. 

And both groups spoke to the city's inaction until recent weeks on calls for such a probe.

"The residents of North Charleston have waited long enough, and the nation is watching North Charleston and other cities that have done little to change (their) policing practices after a needless fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man," the LDF's letter said. 

In 2016, residents and community activists started calling for Charleston and North Charleston to hire qualified firms to conduct independent, racial bias audits of their police departments. 

The calls were spurred by concerns in the wake of the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott, a Black motorist, by Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer. 

Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

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