A special committee formed to investigate alleged acts of racial profiling by the Hinesville Police Department’s Crime Suppression Unit concluded the allegations were unfounded.
"We’re extremely pleased at the outcome," Hinesville Police Chief George Stagmeier said. He said the motorist stops in question were based "strictly on violations of the law."
Committee Chairman the Rev. Richard Wright, pastor of the United Methodist Church in Hinesville, reported the committee’s findings to the Hinesville City Council on Thursday.
Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas convened the special committee on Aug. 18, 2010, after the city received a number of complaints about CSU officers’ alleged "rude behavior, mistreatment and harassment" when conducting traffic stops. The controversy heated up last summer when the Liberty County branch of the NAACP rallied on the county courthouse steps last June and demanded city officials disband the CSU.
"It (the committee) was a diverse group of people," Wright said. Committee members also included the honorable Judge Kenneth Pangburn, Glen Jenkinson, James Rim, Yvonne Woods, San Patel and Miguel Ortiz. The report noted Ortiz did not attend committee meetings.
Wright said the committee researched the allegations during a three-month period and reached their conclusions through consensus. They used two resource guides, one on data collection systems published by the U.S. Department of Justice and one on data available on motorist stops published by the U.S. General Accounting Office. Committee members also viewed police videos of the various traffic stops and interviewed police officers.
"It was an awful lot of data to look at," Wright said.
The committee recommended HPD continue to address each official complaint received and continue to "refine all of their (standard operating procedures) as warranted."
Committee members concluded the police department meets training standards as set by their SOPs, but suggested the department enhance its training in the areas of situational crisis management, professionalism and diversity.
Stagmeier said the CSU was not exactly disbanded; rather it was placed under the department’s patrol division.
"It’s a better fit," he said. The unit is made up of patrol officers who focus on areas that have experienced increased criminal activity or suspected criminal activity, the chief said.
"They’re there to supplement the (regular) patrol (beat officers)," Stagmeier said.
The chief said most of the training recommended by the committee can be done in-house. HPD also will consider arranging for outside trainers to lead department-wide training sessions, he said.