Racial bias ‘deeply entrenched’ in Apex police’s culture, report says

North Carolina

APEX, N.C. (WNCN) – A report said racial bias and blind spots are “entrenched” within the Apex Police Department.

Both the mayor and interim police chief in Apex said work must be done to address the findings of the report, which they called “disturbing.”

“As a society, and also as a police department, we’ve got to learn to be able to have those conversations with people who feel differently than we feel, and we’ve got to learn not to discount other peoples’ reality because it’s not our own,” said Interim Police Chief Tony Godwin.

Godwin took over the department in January. He said the report outlines the need for ongoing work surrounding diversity and inclusion.  However, he said the report doesn’t make clear how many officers made racial comments.

“There’s a great many number of men and women in this department that are in it for the right reasons,” Godwin said. “For anybody that’s not in that category, simply put there’s just no room in this department and frankly in this profession for you.”

The assessment was completed in October by Diversity & HR Solutions at the request of the Apex Town Council.

Mayor Jacques Gilbert said in March 2020, the town conducted an internal cultural assessment for all staff. Then, after the death of George Floyd, the town council wanted to take a closer look at the police department.

“We had expectations from the community members. They wanted a better understanding of where we were with that and wanted to make sure we didn’t have an incident like that in Apex,” Gilbert said.

The assessment said a multi-pronged approach will be required to create a “culturally competent and caring” police department.

“A culture exists and is being supported where officers were comfortable making comments that were blatantly racist and out of touch for serving a multiracial community,” the report said.

Read the report

Apex Town Council requested Diversity & HR Solutions complete the report, which included interviews with former Apex Police Chief John Letteney. 

He announced in November he was retiring.

The assessment also found officers felt unsupported by Town Council and Gilbert. Gilbert, a former police officer, stood with Black Lives Matter protestors over the summer.

“Officers have to understand we’re committed to the entire community and people have concerns. We have to ensure that as council members and the mayor we respond to those concerns and bring everyone along together. It’s not us versus them,” said Gilbert.

Diversity & HR Solutions interviewed each member of the Department. Questions asked included:

  • How would you describe the current work environment within the Apex Police Department?
  • Describe the leadership style within the Department
  • Have you ever experienced or have knowledge of others who have experienced intimidation or threat of losing their jobs?
  • What is the current climate associated with race relations?

Some of the officers and staff were defensive during the interviews, the report stated. One officer said he was recording the session.

While some described the Department as a great place to work, others said it was “toxic,” “horrendous,” and had an absence of leadership.

The findings of the assessment struck a nerve with community activists like Dawn Blagrove, the executive director for Emancipate NC.

Blagrove said the report highlights mistrust between the community and the police department.

“The Black Lives Matter protestors, who we saw all year long, raised concerns about equity and fairness were not wrong. This report validates their lived experiences,” she said.

Diversity & HR Solutions listed a series of recommendations. Some are heavily redacted.

One recommendation is the creation of a Citizen Advisory Committee/Board to help sustain trust within the community.

The Department must have a listening session with the Town Council to root out misinformation between the two entities.

With dealing with racism within the Department, the report recommended racial equity training; targeting more Black, Hispanic, and women for recruitment; and holding all officers accountable for their actions dealing with the racial divide.

Actions aimed at closing the racial divide should be honored and celebrated, the report said.

Blagrove is supportive of the Action Plan presented by Town Council.

“It can be enough if they are done and executed in a way that is aggressive and deliberate, and intentional about creating equity in the workforce,” she said.

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