Day of Community Civil Rights Discussions
Contact Person: Beth Drake (803) 929-3000
Columbia, South Carolina --- As part of the Department of Justice’s commitment to building stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve, on Tuesday, October 4, the District of South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office held a day long series of round table discussions and forums. The goal of these meeting was to address the civil rights work being done through the coordinated efforts of community leaders and law enforcement and how better to meet the challenges of 21st Century policing.
The day began with a Civil Rights Breakfast at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia with a cross section of community leaders in attendance, joined by state and federal law enforcement. Deputy Chief Forrest Christian of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division discussed the hate crime laws and the statutes used to prosecute excessive force cases. Acting United States Attorney Beth Drake highlighted prosecutions in recent years by the U.S. Attorney’s Office under the hate crime and excessive force laws. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Brian Jones described how his office works civil rights investigations, including those worked with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division on officer-involved shootings and other use of force cases. S.C. Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel addressed the state investigation and prosecution of excessive force claims. Director Jackie Swindler of the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy talked about how his agency trains law enforcement officers in de-escalation and some of the physical challenges to law enforcement. The meeting was then opened to discussion where these heads of agency talked with members of the community. Representatives of the African-American business, civil and religious community, as well as representatives from the Muslim, Sikh and LGBT communities, participated in the discussions.
South Carolina Director of Public Safety Leroy Smith participated in the breakfast discussion. “I am privileged to take part in this forum that brings together state and federal law enforcement partners with our community leaders,” said SCDPS Director Leroy Smith. “As we have learned from incidents in our own state and throughout our nation, establishing trust in our communities starts with accountability and transparency. I believe open and frequent communication are key to building trust and support in our communities before a crisis.”
The day continued with Deputy Chief Forrest Christian, Acting U.S. Attorney Beth Drake, Criminal Chief Nancy Wicker and Supervisory Special Agent Brian Jones visiting first with Sheriff Leon Lott’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee and later City of Columbia Police Chief W.H. “Skip” Holbrook Citizen’s Advisory Committee. The focus of these meetings was to further the discussion of the federal program for civil rights enforcement, and the value of state partnerships in working these cases.
Michael Stansbury, Acting Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Columbia Field Office said, “The FBI in South Carolina appreciates the opportunity provided by the United States Attorney’s Office to meet with these community groups and discuss these important issues. While law enforcement officers, including FBI Special Agents, and other officials receive certain powers from the people so they can prevent wrongs and enforce the law, these same officers and officials must be held accountable for the way they use those powers. Violating the public’s trust undermines the hard and sacrificial work of all law enforcement officers. The FBI is confident this dialogue today will help to strengthen the trust communities have in law enforcement agencies throughout South Carolina.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Drake said, “The Citizens Advisory Committee meetings were terrific. Sheriff Lott is on the front end of the move to strengthen police-community relations by talking about policing practices. He and his command staff regularly meet with a standing committee of community members. His goal is to advance public safety through mutual trust and respect built on personal relationships between law enforcement and the people in Richland County his officers are sworn to protect. When his officers have a problem, Sheriff Lott has a record of taking responsibility and taking action to ensure accountability. As a consequence, the community has a high level of trust in our Sheriff’s Department.”
Attorney Drake also noted, “Chief Holbrook has developed a detailed plan for implementation of the report coming out of The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing which is posted on the CPD website. Such efforts grow community confidence in the police department.
Chief Holbrook’s work in Columbia has gained national attention. 21st Century Policing Task Force report Clearly, Chief Holbrook is committed to and is an advocate for evolving police practices to face the challenges in the 21st Century.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Beth Drake said, “We in the USAO work closely with the DOJ Civil Rights Division and the FBI on cases that are headed to federal court. However, our state and local partners have a critically important role in prosecuting civil rights violations, and, equally, or perhaps more importantly, in working to prevent problems before they arise.
We have a tradition of community policing here in South Carolina, a state where we still know our neighbors. However, it is the American way to always do more and do better. Our strength is innovation, and policing, like engineering, can be made stronger through innovation and research. SLED Chief Keel has certainly demonstrated how we can advance public safety through data and research, whether it is the SLED FUSION Center where he can access technology to respond to an AMBER Alert, or working with newly appointed SC Criminal Justice Academy Director Jackie Swindler on de-escalation training.”
Chief Keel talked about the role of SLED in doing an investigation after an officer uses his or her firearm, “As a part of their job, police officers face danger and over the course of a career, there will be times when an officer may use force in responding to a situation. When SLED gets the call that an officer has used their firearm, we will do an investigation that is full and fair to all involved to determine whether use of the firearm was justified under the circumstances. Plain and simple, the facts are the facts. We don’t make the facts, we discover and report them. Our agents do their work to ensure these cases get the attention they deserve.”
Director Swindler, S.C. Criminal Justice Academy, described some of the recent on-line training offered to every police and sheriff’s department in South Carolina, “Training law enforcement has always been essential and important, but no more so than in today’s current times. At the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, we are constantly re-evaluating our training so that it is relevant. In every basic law enforcement class, recruits are exposed to a great deal of training in the areas of cultural professionalism, conflict resolution, de-escalation and de-confliction. They are not only exposed to classroom exercises but also to hands-on scenario based instruction.
In addition to the aforementioned training for recruits, recently in a partnership between the Academy and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, of the more than 12,000 Class I officers in South Carolina, more than 8,800 officers have received verbal conflict on-line training conducted by Chief Harry Dolan (Ret.). This training was designed to provide officers with communication skills to help de-escalate potentially volatile situations without unnecessary use of force.”
Director Swindler referenced training where the U.S. Attorney’s Office Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee joined with the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy and the S.C. Law Enforcement Officers Association to develop a web-based training to provide verbal de-escalation training. The on-line training is an introduction for newer officers in developing practical verbal conflict management and a refresher for experienced officers on de-escalating potentially volatile encounters between law enforcement and citizens. The de-escalation training has a dual goal of enhancing both officer and community safety by expanding the public safety professional’s tools to serve as guardians of the peace.
Acting U.S. Attorney Beth Drake closed by announcing that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has recently hired two full-time prosecutors to handle both civil and criminal civil rights allegations. She invited the community to visit the U.S. Attorney’s Office web site to learn more about the work of the U.S. Attorney. www.justice.gov/usao-sc . “If you have a community event and you would like to have our office attend, there is an icon on our web page where you can click to request a speaker.”