north charleston police webref (copy) (copy)

North Charleston's long-awaited Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Community-Police Relations — believed to be the only one of its kind in the Lowcountry — met for the first time Tuesday night.

The inaugural gathering largely focused on how the 25-member commission will be organized. But in the future, its members will review citizens' complaints against the North Charleston Police Department and its officers. It also will work to improve communication between the department and the city's various communities, educate the public about how to bring issues to the police department, aid in recruiting new officers and make recommendations to the department about how to improve community policing. 

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.

North Charleston’s commission is believed to be the most ambitious group in the area in terms of providing a degree of civilian oversight over a police department, although at least one other police department has sought the public’s input.

Last year, the Charleston Police Department began its Illumination Project, an ongoing effort to strengthen relationships between the citizens and police.

And North Charleston  also formed a Community and Police Panel in 2008,  but it had different members than the new commission, and wasn't thought to be as focused or organized.

Ed Bryant, president of NAACP chapter in North Charleston, has said he doubted the new commission would have an impact because the former police panel was in place when Scott was shot.

But members of the new commission said they were positive about what the group might be able to do, and committed to working collaboratively. 

"I'm excited because we can make things better," said commission member Dot Scott, president of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP. Scott was appointed by Mayor Keith Summey.

Keon Rhodan, who was appointed by City Councilman Kenny Skipper, said the group is diverse, and he's a little different than some other people in it. "I was a knucklehead when I was younger, on the wrong side of the law," he said.

But after serving time in federal prison, Rhodan talked about how he turned his life around. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees, and now owns a car dealership. He also is involved in several community groups. 

Through his community work, he got to know several police officers, he said. And he thinks the commission can improve relationships between police and the community. 

Former U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles facilitated Tuesday's meeting and suggested the group first learn more about how the police department operates before moving forward. 

The group decided to spend the next several meetings going over lessons from the department on topics such as: community policing, search and seizure, traffic stops and biased-based profiling, use of force, and recruiting and training.

Members also decided it was important that they receive press releases from the police department so they stay as informed as possible on the issues.

The group will meet bimonthly at least until it completes its informational sessions on police department practices. 

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.