AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — The ability to hold local police accountable is on the minds of many across the country.
One local advocacy group wants the ability for residents to be able to address complaints against local law enforcement officers in any agency across Aiken County.
“Our conversation with local law enforcement and also the governments around Aiken County really is the start of a conversation,” President of the Aiken County Branch NAACP Eugene White told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk.
A conversation to help move Aiken County Foward, that’s what local members of the Aiken County Branch NAACP want to do. The organization is coming up with a game plan, including establishing Citizen’s Review Boards with subpoena powers for all law enforcement bodies in Aiken County including colleges and the university. These boards can be found in many cities across the United States.
“I think it’s a very effective tool. It helps make our Public Safety Department better,” Aiken City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said.
The City of Aiken uses a Citizen’s Review Board. The group composed of nine members from diverse sections of the community was formed in 2016 and began meeting once a month in 2017.
“In 2020 to date, we have had 15 complaints so far. We only have one of those which the department agreed with the complaint,” Chairman of the Aiken Citizen’s Review Board Retired Judge John Dangler shared.
When a complaint is filed against an officer with Aiken Public Safety, an investigation is conducted.
After the director reviews the report and any other documents, a final decision is made. If a complainant is not satisfied with the outcome, officials refer that person to the City’s Citizen’s Review Board. “We’d like to feel that that’s the department is on top of themselves. If they’ve got an issue, they deal with it,” Dangler added.
The City Manager’s Office oversees its function to offer a level of transparency among those involved. “Certainly the Public Safety Department is the department that is scrutinized, if you will, by the Citizen’s Review Board. So ultimately comes to me,” Bedenbaugh added.
As far as the program being duplicated across Aiken County, officials say that it shouldn’t be a problem based on its success in the City. “It would not be very difficult from a process standpoint for other entities or communities to replicate,” Bedenbaugh said. “[Mr. White] wanted to see more subpoena power and so forth. I have some concerns with that approach but in some places in the country, they have that. The main thing is just to be there and, and let residents know they have a voice,” Dangler added.
For members of the NAACP advocacy group, Citizen’s Review Boards across the county it’s a step in the right direction. “We really can’t move Aiken County forward unless we can share equality and equity in all pieces relating to education, public safety, economic empowerment, employment, healthcare, and even in the environment. So this is just a very important first step that we’re taking to start to work on all of those things,” White added.
If you have an issue in the City of Aiken, you can use a commendation/complaint form or call the Citizens Review hotline at 803-643-2147 to provide information regarding any interaction with Public Safety you desire to have reviewed.
Meanwhile, the Aiken Citizen’s Review Board is expected to give an update to Council at their Monday meeting.