With our legislators back in Columbia, I hope they will change two laws that we saw in a negative light in 2015.
In North Charleston we saw the shooting death of Walter Scott after a traffic stop. This resulted in a law requiring police to wear body cameras, but it also highlighted the ineffectiveness of our racial profiling law.
In 2005 Richland Rep. Joe Neal championed the effort to create a reporting and tracking system that could be used to identify officers and agencies engaging in racial profiling. His bill was patterned after the program the Richland County Sheriff’s Department had created. Then and now, every time my deputies conduct a traffic stop, they must tell the dispatcher why the vehicle was stopped, tag number and location. After the stop, they tell the dispatcher the age and race of the driver and the result of the stop, i.e. warning ticket, verbal warning or ticket. The data are compiled and reviewed in order to make sure racial profiling does not exist at the Sheriff’s Department.
Analysis: The disproportionate risk of driving while black
Unfortunately, the bill that passed only required the information to be collected when no citation was issued, and there was no enforcement, so some agencies fail to submit the information to the Department of Public Safety as the law requires. Even more disturbing, nothing is done with the data. Occasionally an elected official will present the raw data to score some political points, but the raw data are useless without a thorough examination of the where and why of the stops. So what we have is a feel-good law that does very little.
Rep. Neal is on a mission to make this law useful in combating racial profiling. He needs the support of his fellow legislators and the law enforcement community.
Secondly, the Spring Valley High School incident involving one of my deputies brought to light the urgent need to amend the “disturbing schools” law, which has created opportunities to be misused and misinterpreted. The good intention behind the law was to create a safe learning and teaching environment. It was not meant to be used to discipline students.
Lawmaker wants better tracking of disturbing-school offenses
Discipline is the responsibility of teachers and school administrators. School resource officers should only be involved with true criminal violations. Our vague disturbing schools law has turned disciplinary issues into criminal violations. That has to be corrected so we don’t have another Spring Valley incident.
During 2015 we saw the best and worst that could be imagined, and through it all, the best greatly outshined the worst. This past year should be remembered as the year South Carolina proved we are so much better in racial and community relationships than Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago. The citizens and communities of South Carolina built and strengthened bridges during crisis; we didn’t burn them.
In 2016, our Legislature and governor have the opportunity to learn from 2015 and make changes that can strengthen our bridges of unity.
Mr. Lott is the Richland County sheriff; contact him at Sheriff@rcsd.net.