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As politicians face off in D.C., local police open to reform

Published: Jun. 26, 2020 at 8:05 AM EDT
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While there’s a lot of disagreement in Washington on how to approach police reform, law enforcement agencies in the CSRA are open to it.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a police reform bill in honor of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis officer placed him in a chokehold.

The House measure would ban no-knock warrants in federal cases, prohibit racial profiling, reform “qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers, establish a national database tracking police misconduct and ban chokeholds, classifying them as a civil rights violation.

Among those supporting the plan was South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn.

“As a proud South Carolinian, I believe in and try to live by that principle, ‘While I breathe, I hope.’ And with the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, we will all breathe a little freer and gain a little more hope,” Clyburn said in the House.

The House vote came just one day after Democrats killed a competing Republican bill in the Senate, saying it didn’t go far enough. That measure was led by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.

“We lost, I lost, a vote on a piece of legislation that would have led to systemic change in the relationship between the communities of color and the law enforcement community,” Scott said.

The House bill heads to the GOP-controlled Senate, where it has little chance, although some lawmakers hope the two bills can lead to bipartisan change.

Despite disagreements on Capitol Hill, law enforcement leaders in the CSRA agree that policing changes with the times:

Richmond County

The CSRA Black Lives Matter group met with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office with a list of demands. The local activists say they’ve seen some change, but more needs to be done.

The demands include improving community policing, more training and public review panels.

The sheriff's agency says the community review panels are the least likely to get done.

Officials say they've had success with their citizens academy.

Activists say they are here to make their voices heard beyond the street demonstrations that began about four weeks ago locally in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.

“The only thing I can say for our leadership is just to listen. Don’t think we’re over here being radical and wanting to overthrow government and defund police. We really just want our community to be taken care of and just have equality,” said Jamie Tutson of CSRA Black Lives Matter.

Both sides see these discussions as a positive step, and part of improving trust and transparency.

Burke County

Members of the public will have a chance to bring concerns to agencies at a law enforcement reform forum that’s planned Tuesday by the Burke County Sheriff’s Office and local prosecutors.

Officials will answer questions and address concerns from the public. A panel discussion will include a minister, a judge, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, a civil rights representative, local legislators and law enforcement.

The event will be from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday at the Burke County Office Park, 715 W. Sixth St. In Waynesboro.

Columbia County

Among the agencies working to avoid excessive force is the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. A use-of-force simulator teaches officers how to de-escalate a potentially deadly situation.

Lt. Russell Canterbury says deputies always need to be learning.

Through their entire career, they should pursue training opportunities that make them better, he said.

“Our world is always changing, laws are changing, the way you handle situations are changing, and you need to stay on top of it,” said the lieutenant of training at the agency.

Aiken

The Aiken Department of Public Safety says it’s been building on accountability and transparency for years, and is working toward 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.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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