The city of Greenville’s newly created Citizen Advisory Committee on Public Safety raised questions about the Police Department’s use of force and minority recruitment practices during a marathon three-hour meeting on Aug. 6.
According to data presented by interim Greenville Police Chief Howie Thompson, officers reported 92 use of force incidents on 59 subjects in 2019. Of those incidents, 47 involved taking or tackling subjects to the ground, and none involved the use of deadly force, Thompson said.
“That is a very low number with all the interactions that we have,” Thompson said. “We’re on top of it, and we watch it.”
Of the 59 subjects police used force on last year, 54% were Black, 44% were white and 2% were Hispanic. In 2018, 53% were Black and 43% were white.
When asked why a disproportionate number of Blacks are represented in the data, Thompson said: “We don’t check which people are going to struggle with us or going to resist. In these cases, the officers — when they use force — are just responding to resistance.”
The committee also discussed ways to increase the number of minority applicants to the police force, which is currently 85% white and 85% male, according to Athena Miller, human resources director for the city of Greenville.
Miller said the city has hired an outside firm specializing in minority recruitment and regularly tries to recruit from historically black colleges.
“We’ve tried to do everything that we can do,” Miller said. “The bigger issue is not that we’re not an inclusive organization, the bigger issue is getting enough qualified applicants … to pursue a career in law enforcement.”
Established in June, the Citizen Advisory Committee on Public Safety was formed in the wake of local and national protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.
Appointees were selected by Mayor Knox White and each of the six members of Greenville City Council. They are: the Rev. Stacey Mills (chair); former juvenile court judge Karen Baynes-Dunning; prison reentry specialist Jerry Blassingame; local attorneys Cindy Crick and Wes Few; longtime Southernside neighborhood association president Mary Duckett; and retired police captain Stacey Owens.
The panel will improve communication flow between the Police Department and the community and develop a dialogue about Greenville policing, according to White.
Committee members have been tasked with reviewing different Greenville Police Department policies and practices and presenting recommendations to the City Council within 60 days.