The Justice Department announced Tuesday the start of a comprehensive review of the practices and policies of a South Carolina police department, which was thrust into the national spotlight last year after the fatal shooting of a black motorist by a white police officer.
The Justice Department’s office of community oriented policing services will lead the “collaborative reform” review of the North Charleston Police Department, where both the police chief and mayor asked federal authorities to weigh in.
“It is an opportunity for us to look at ourselves,” Mayor Keith Summey said at Tuesday’s announcement. “If there are ways we can enhance and improve relationships, if there are ways we can improve law enforcement in general, we will be happy to implement those changes.”
Federal investigators will learn more about the department’s practices through interviews with community members and observation of police officers, and ultimately issue a public report detailing recommendations for improvement within the agency.
The review, which commences immediately, was announced less than a week after former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager was indicted on federal criminal charges related to the shooting death of Walter Scott.
The shooting, which a bystander recorded on a cellphone, heightened national concern over how black citizens are treated by police officers. Scott was shot five times as he fled from his vehicle after he was pulled over in April 2015. The video captures Mr. Slager firing eight times as Scott ran away from him.
Mr. Slager was already facing state murder charges when he was indicted last week on federal charges that accuse him of violating Scott’s civil rights.
The police review is different from probes conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which can examine accusations of biased policing through investigations that are meant to bring to light any patterns of misconduct within a police department.
During the North Charleston review, federal authorities will provide technical assistance to the department in order to analyze and modernize officers’ training, tactics and accountability methods, Justice Department officials said.
Noble Wray, chief of the police department’s COPS practices and accountability initiative, said catastrophic or controversial incidents may trigger his office’s investigations, but that his investigators are tasked with looking at broader issues within the department.
“We don’t investigate individual incidents,” Mr. Wray said. “However there are certain incidents that have occurred that will help to inform our assessment.”
North Charleston is the 11th city to undergo the Justice Department’s “collaborative reform initiative.”
Mr. Wray said recommendations made to other departments have often related to improvements in accountability.