Aiken Public Safety a model of community policing, many say, after George Floyd protests
AIKEN, SC (WRDW/WAGT) - U.S. Senate Democrats voted to block the Republican-sponsored police reform bill, saying it doesn’t go far enough. But some police departments and Congress are looking at it as an example for creating new reform laws.
The Aiken Department of Public Safety says this is a place that's been built on accountability and transparency for years, and it's important during these times more than ever.
As debates continue in Washington, the agency is working towards building trust.
“We make mistakes. When we make those mistakes. We need to own them and learn from them,” Aiken Public Safety Chief Charles Barranco said.
To Barranco, policing the right way is about creating a culture of hiring, training, and accountability. They pay to have that inspected through their national accreditation each year.
“Our officers not only have a duty to act when they see something wrong. They have a duty to say something,” Barranco said.
And sometimes there's a duty to learn something. Like back in 2014 when a traffic stop led to a federal lawsuit after officers were accused of an unlawful public cavity search. It ended in a settlement.
“I wish we had a body camera that day to disprove any allegations,” Barranco said. “We learned a lot as with any situation.”
They ended up buying body cameras and created a citizen's review board. The community can also make public safety complaints on the city website. Keeping track of data is part of their personnel early warning system, to notice recurring issues with specific officers.
Of more than 100,000 calls for service in between 2018 and 2019, there were 44 uses of force and three complaints.
Many of these steps are key points in police reform legislation today, but they've been doing it for years.
“All that creates that culture in the fabric of our department to ensure something like that doesn’t happen,” Barranco said.
One of the issues that has come out of the George Floyd story is the banning of chokeholds. Barranco says they don’t teach that tactic and he’s never been taught it during his career.
Another issue being discussed on the national stage is diversity in policing. The Aiken Department of Public Safety says they brought in a focus group several years ago to review their hiring practices.
They say they are making progress in looking more like the community, but there’s still more improvement that needs to be done.
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