One year ago Monday, then-North Charleston police officer Michael Slager pulled over driver Walter Scott for a broken tail light. What resulted from the traffic stop has changed a community forever.
The incident received only minor attention at first, as early North Charleston police reports indicated Slager had shot and killed an unarmed Scott who had tried to gain control of his police Taser. But then Police Chief Eddie Driggers called a news conference three days later. That press conference revealed Slager had been charged with murder due to inconsistencies in his report and — more importantly — a citizen’s cell phone video.
The video, which was released to select news outlets a day later, appears to show Slager shooting Scott in the back as the other man fled down a dirt alley following a struggle. That video also led to Slager’s termination from the police force.
Since the shooting, the Charleston Post & Courier notes North Charleston police have reported a 51 percent drop in the number traffic stops. Specifically, roughly 26,000 drivers were pulled over by officers in the nine months since the incident, compared with 54,000 during the same timeframe in 2014-2015. The paper suggested the reduction is a result of the reluctance on the part of police to pull people over for fear of a provoked confrontation. However, it also interviewed several experts who say police departments nationwide had already begun moving away from traffic stops in favor of community policing.
The local NAACP chapter president Ed Bryant has questioned if the change in policing is temporary or permanent, arguing North Charleston Police have not made any major changes in policies since the shooting.
However, the shooting did lead to changes on the statewide level. South Carolina legislators last year unanimously approved groundwork that will eventually require officers to carry body cameras while responding to calls. North Charleston Police had already begun purchasing their own body cameras prior to the law’s passage. The “Walter Scott Act” gave law enforcement agencies some leeway in writing their own camera regulations, but requires them to be approved by the state Law Enforcement Training Council.
Driggers has also questioned, however, that the number of violent crimes and homicides increased in months after Scott’s shooting. Ten homicides have occurred there in the first three months of 2016 compared to two in the same period last year. Reports of property crime and violence were up by 17 percent in the ten months after the incident.
Jay Harper filed this report