Seven consulting firms compete for racial bias audit of Charleston PD

07 June 2018 3 min. read

Charleston, SC, is recruiting a consulting firm to conduct a racial bias study of the city’s police department. Seven firms are in the running for the contract, which comes after multiple racially-tinged police shootings across the state made international headlines.

Companies are increasingly drafting in consulting firms to identify racial and gender biases in their hiring or promotion practices. Some, such as hotels, airlines, and now Starbucks, are calling in experts to highlight potential biases in their treatment of customers. Public actors, from political parties to government departments, are also getting their house in order as they realize there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Charleston fits into this latter category. South Carolina’s largest city recently published a proposal for a Racial Bias Audit of the Charleston Police Department. City councillors will soon decide from among seven consulting firms in the running to secure the contract. Specifically the city wants to find out whether the PD’s tactics have a negative impact on black citizens and other minorities.

That Charleston should outsource such research to consulting firms is not surprising. The city’s near neighbor – North Charleston – has been mired in controversy concerning the unlawful killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed black motorist. Former North Charleston PD officer Michael Slager was recently handed a 20-year jail sentence for firing eight shots at his victim as he tried to run away from what was at the time a routine traffic stop.

Charleston itself was the site of white supremacist Dylann Roof’s 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers. The atrocity helped spark a new movement to remove Confederate symbols from public buildings across South Carolina. In Charleston the major issue of the day is pretext stops, whereby officers stop citizens for alleged minor violations as an excuse to investigate suspected felonies.

Seven consulting firms compete for racial bias audit of Charleston PD

Overseeing the consultancy chosen to carry out the racial bias study will be the Charleston Area Justice Ministry. The group will demand regular updates and a comprehensive report on the extent of racial bias in the police department, should it be found to exist. Recommendations will also be expected.

Conducting such a study demands a degree of specialist knowledge and experience from the consultancy chosen. Among the candidates are Hillard Heintze, a Chicago-based firm that helped the Seattle PD develop a new use-of-force policy. Another candidate is Dallas-based Coleman & Associates Consultants – a coaching and HR consultancy experienced in working with law enforcement outfits.

Also competing for the project are the Police Foundation, which advises on civilian oversight of police actions, and CNA – a non-profit consultancy with a specialist focus on the public sector. They are joined by OIR Group – a Californian consulting firm that has conducted research on police killings in the Golden State, and RTI International – which advises on ‘social and justice policy’. The final shortlisted firm is 21st Century Policing Solutions, whose top consultants include former police chiefs and commissioners.