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Groups seek independent body to eye police racial policies

Scott Morgan
South Carolina Public Radio

Four activist groups are urging a South Carolina city to create an independent body to oversee efforts to reduce racial disparities in its police department.

The recommendation for the city of North Charleston comes from Charleston Area Justice Ministry, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Charleston's Black Lives Matter chapter and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Post and Courier reports that the groups say public oversight is needed as the city works to address findings of an audit that found racial disparities in police department practices, including field interviews, use of force, arrests and traffic stops. The city contracted with Virginia-based CNA for $283,000 to review the agency.

The city created a citizens advisory commission in 2017 that sought to improve police department transparency two years after the death of Walter Scott, a Black man murdered by a white police officer while fleeing a traffic stop. Scott's family is also part of the effort urging creation of the independent body, The Post and Courier reported.

"The city has invested substantial taxpayer funds in the audit process and is accountable to the community for those expenditures," said Suzanne Hardie, with the justice ministry. "We urge City Council to establish this independent body, which should include members of the public who are invested in equitable public safety practices."

Chief Reggie Burgess has begun gathering necessary information to create a citizens group, city spokesman Ryan Johnson said.

"Nothing has been formalized," Johnson said.