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Three North Charleston police commanders recently completed the department's first-ever training with a North Carolina-based organization that works to understand and address racism.

Assistant Police Chief David Cheatle, Maj. Ken Hagge and Maj. Joyce Smith went through the two-day training with the Racial Equity Institute earlier this month. It covered racism in the context of U.S. history, how racism contributed to inequitable systems and organizations, and encouraged the participants to think critically about the city and police department they serve in.

Smith, who oversees North Charleston's southern patrol district, said understanding the history and impact of race and racism in the community is an essential tool for officers.

"I know that sometimes conversations around race can be uncomfortable," she said. "If officers have a better view (of the issues), it better equips us to be more compassionate."

Racial equity training gives officers a valuable tool to communicate with residents of diverse backgrounds and help them better understand the complex population they serve, Smith said.

"I think that everyone has to look at racial equity because if effects life on every single level," she said.

For James Johnson, state president of the National Action Network, the fact that North Charleston police are taking steps to put their leadership through training like this is a sign that attitudes are headed in the right direction.

The city has grappled with racism and had a number of controversial incidents involving police since its founding in 1972, Johnson said. After the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott by then-North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, attitudes began to change.

The activist said he believes the city's police force will continue to improve under the leadership of Chief Reggie Burgess, who took over the department in 2018, especially if they continue to reach out to marginalized segments of the community.

"We have young people fearing the police department because of its past," Johnson said. "(The department) doesn't have a problem with middle-aged or older black people. It's with the youth."

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

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.

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