Consulting group gives recommendations to deal with racial division within Salisbury Police Department

The consultants engaged more than 100 individuals it says included police service staff, community organizations, and individuals.
WPR Consultants Willie
Ratchford and Dr. Anthony Wade addressing the Salisbury City Council.
WPR Consultants Willie Ratchford and Dr. Anthony Wade addressing the Salisbury City Council.(City of Salisbury)
Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 7:41 PM EDT
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SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - On Tuesday during the Salisbury City Council meeting, a consulting firm presented a comprehensive study dealing with racial divisions within the Salisbury Police Department.

WPR Consulting, along with City of Salisbury Human Relations Manager Anne Little and Police Chief Jerry Stokes, gave details about the firm’s climate assessment of the police department’s diversity, equity and inclusion.

According to the presentation, WPR Consulting, LLC (Consultants) was retained by the City of Salisbury “to address perceptions of racial division in the Salisbury Police Department (SPD); and develop a list of recommendations, resources and support the SPD would need to build an inclusive environment for all its personnel to include training, technical assistance, staff development and accountability. The primary purpose of this process was to perform a racial/climate assessment of the SPD; gather information regarding perceptions of racial division in the department from SPD employees and others; use a SWOT analysis and visioning process to identify the police department’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and potential growth areas as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion; and develop and facilitate a comprehensive diversity, equity and inclusion training module that can be used to improve the cultural competency of police employees and other city staff as needed.”

The report stated that one of the primary requests of the consultants was to complete an assessment of perceptions of racial division in the SPD. The consultants engaged more than 100 individuals it says included police service staff, community organizations, and individuals.

Following those conversations, the consultants made these assessments:

• The SPD contracted with the Consultants to get some sense of racial division in the SPD based upon perceptions by some in the department, and in the community. However, most personnel interviewed across demographics (Black, White, Latino) did not share this concern in group sessions with the Consultants.

• Blacks and Whites feel that external perceptions in the community have affected relationships within the Department.

• Black and White perceptions of race and gender equity inside the Salisbury Police Department should be valued.

• Black and White perceptions of racial division in the SPD are different. The SPD has a racial perception divide. Most of the personnel who believe there is racial division (to include racism) in the department, are Black while most of the personnel who believe the department does not have a racial divide (no racism) are White.

• Blacks and Whites perceive elected officials are utilizing issues within the Police Department politically.

• In the SPD, Blacks and Whites who may have different perceptions on the existence of a racial divide or racism within the department don’t talk with one another to get some sense on why they perceive this issue so differently.

• The SPD, in and of itself, is not racially divided, however, there is a sense that there are individuals who were employed by the department who have engaged in behavior that may be viewed as racist.

• Many SPD personnel (Blacks and Whites) believe the department has generational division caused by an age gap in the department.

• Racial tensions exist within the SPD, due in part to the failure of police personnel to communicate with one another on issues of race or racial division. Personnel in the department who may have racial issues with one another don’t talk it through with one another to get to the bottom of what may be going on.

• There is a strong perception by some SPD personnel that racial issues and a racial divide in the SPD is caused, in part, by the media and its narrative about race (George Floyd); and the national stories that led to protests during the past year or two against police. Most SPD personnel believe that the department is a good place to work, the current Police Chief is good for the department and the community; and personnel appreciates the efforts of the Chief to engage the community in the department’s work and promote community policing and community input/solutions to police issues.

• The SPD may need to be more intentional in telling its own story about the great things that happen in the department around positive community engagement.

• There is a perception held by Black and White staff, within the SPD, that the severity for discipline in the department may be dependent on the race of the individual who is being reprimanded, or the age of the individual being reprimanded, or who you may know and have connections with in the department.

• Racial and cultural tensions exist within the SPD.

The consultants spent time speaking with SPD officers of different backgrounds, as well as members of the community. The conversations dealt with the perception of a racial divide, but also how culture, gender, and age made an impact within the department.

In one session, a Black officer spoke about the challenges from his own community: “I went to visit my college in uniform. I later got a call from some friends on campus who said that some students were complaining that ‘The PoPo’ were there. A Black officer going to a Black community has two strikes against him. Being a white officer going into a Black community I think it is looked at as one strike. I think it is just one extra thing. For me, it is just the same or worse. I am expected to be the savior of the community. If I am with a white officer, they expect me to side with them. You are now a part of it”

Another Black officer shared how community unrest and tensions over the past year had affected him personally. “After the George Floyd incident there were 2 to 3 days of protests. I usually saw it on TV, the looters and rioters. We had to go restore order at the protests. It hit me that it was happening here. The first push against the shield, I said ‘How is it going to end?’ A lot of people in the crowd, I knew them. People I know where egging something on that they don’t have anything to do with. I wore a gas mask for three hours straight. I was getting tired and I was getting angry. The protestors are yelling at me because I am Black even though I have been there for them on many occasions. It made me feel conflicted, angry. Salisbury had nothing to do with what happened with Floyd. By the end of the night, I was so upset and fatigued. I saw what was happening in the world, but I saw what was happening in Salisbury from people I took care of. Yes, it had spilled over, but not for the right reasons. They do it for clout.”

Another officer stated that, “I have not personally seen racial tension here and sometimes it confuses me as to where this is coming from, but I don’t see and feel how others do. I’ve been in the Police Department for over 20 years and, when I am recruiting, I am recruiting for diversity. This most recent class is the most diverse class the Department ever had and many of the recruits are very, very young. We (Officers) understand that when we go to work, we may not come back. The younger officers don’t understand this. If a supervisor gave a directive in the old days, you do it. Now it is different. These days, the question is ‘why?’ This person didn’t do it why do I have to? There are people becoming officers who were born in 1999, 2000 and all they have had is social media. The younger generation doesn’t understand that what we tell you, we have done for years. We are trying to train you the best way we can.”

Specific to the issue of gender division, a White female related that, “I don’t really feel like there is gender division either. I think everyone gets treated equally. We are good friends and coworkers. I don’t feel like I’m divided because I am a woman.”

The consultants used their information to come up with a series recommendations:

1. Design and Implement a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice Strategic Plan and corresponding action plan to provide a sense of direction and measurable goals and objectives for the SPD, to include:

a. A vision to make DEI standard operating procedure in the SPD, and the City

b. Determine short and long-term goals

c. Target initiatives/actions to address allegations/perceptions of racial division in the department

d. Determine trainings needed to address implicit/unconscious bias; and cultural competence

e. An intentional focus on providing implicit bias training for all SPD employees so that they are aware of how unintentional biases can influence decision making and perceptions about the department

f. Determine how progress will be measured and assess that progress based on meaningful measures

g. On-going feedback and a willingness to adjust as needed

h. Holding all SPD leadership positions accountable for this plan/work by incorporating DEI quality measures into leadership’s annual performance evaluations/expectations

i. Building an SPD that values all personnel and their needs equally and allows for a representative voice and presence throughout all divisions of the department

2. Increase SPD DEI awareness and knowledge through employee engagement by:

a. Reviewing current methods of engagement with staff and the community, especially communities of color, to determine opportunities to leverage resources which promote DEI, transparency, open communications and internal personal relationship building

b. Developing a cohesive and collaborative communications and marketing plan; take onus to own and tell the SPD story (externally); highlight SPD DEI initiatives and opportunities internally

c. Educating all SPD staff on the history of race within the department, the good, the bad and the ugly

d. Training and development

e. SPD staff surveys

f. Engage the SPD leadership teams

3. After development, completion and implementation of the SPD DEI Strategic Plan, follow up with efforts on a communitywide basis by engaging:

a. Elected officials and other City departments and staff

b. Community members

c. Community organizations (NAACP, faith leaders, etc.)

d. Others - TBD

4. Community Forums be created to bring residents together for deliberative community dialogues on tough issues and community concerns about the SPD.

Consultant Feedback: In Salisbury, racial, ethnic and socio-economic tensions may lead to public discourse and cause polarization in many segments of the community. This does not have to be. The City and the SPD should take the lead to develop and implement community forums/dialogues to address various topics of concerns about the SPD, especially those topics that may be difficult to talk about due to race, ethnicity or the many ways we tend to divide ourselves.

The consultants pointed out that many communities in North Carolina have taken to hosting “Can We Talk? – Conversations” that invite residents of a community to wrestle with significant issues, including allegations of racism and discrimination, that confront the community. Salisbury and the SPD might consider, as a start, community dialogues to address “Can We Talk about Perceptions of Racial Division in the SPD?”

In such a dialogue, a panel of elected officials, law enforcement personnel and residents of the community, and/or subject matter experts might discuss the following generic questions and concerns:

• Do you think there is racial division in the SPD? What do you point to as evidence? What divisions do you see? Where are the dividing lines?

• If yes, why and how does that affect your ability to advocate or work for change? How does it impact the ability of elected officials to lead?

• Who do you trust? Why? What would make a difference?

• When times are difficult – or when tough decisions are made – how can we work in a way that unites rather than divides us?

• How do we address concerns about the SPD? It is recommended that the City and the SPD be more intentional moving forward and seek ways to engage all residents in deliberative community dialogue around tough issues, especially those related to perceptions about the SPD.

5. Increase outreach to diverse populations in Salisbury.

Consultant Feedback: Over the past 30 years, cities in North Carolina, including Salisbury, have become more diverse. The City and the SPD need to be in the forefront of providing culturally competent services and outreach to Salisbury’s growing diverse community. The SPD needs to provide information on its services through local channels as well as having a presence at local fairs and festivals honoring other diverse cultures. The department should also work collaboratively with local translation and interpretation agencies to provide services to all clients who may need the department’s public safety services.

SPD should work to enhance customer service with a focus on cultural competency by assessing and addressing the special needs of their diverse customer base and reducing the impact of cultural barriers through intentional partnerships with community-based organizations and non-profits serving these groups. The SPD should also write and design specific departmental publications and materials that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.

6. Provide diversity, equity and inclusion training to employees of the City and the SPD on a continuous basis.

Consultant Feedback: As components of local government, the City of Salisbury and the SPD are dealing with a constituency that has become more diverse. Diversity, equity and inclusion are no longer a matter of Blacks and Whites, but Hispanic/Latinos, Africans, people of Middle Eastern descent, Asians, and many more, including new residents from various parts of America. To address the needs of this expanding and diverse customer base, both the City and the SPD must engage in outreach that includes the development and implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion training, as well as opportunities and conversations within all cultural groups of the City.

The SPD should be instrumental in the provision of diversity, equity, and inclusion training and engaging its employees, and others, in honest and substantive dialogue and organizational development around DEI. The training provided by the SPD should play a role in assisting the City in their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, their management of DEI and their support of DEI. This is important because DEI contributes to employee performance and the services the City and the SPD provide. By promoting an inclusive environment where everyone respects individuals and values contributions of people of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, the employees of the SPD can enrich and strengthen the quality of the services they deliver, and the careers of all police personnel.

The DEI training that the SPD and the City provide should also be helpful in providing a foundation to develop an overall DEI strategy that might include the following elements:

• The diversity, equity, inclusion and justice strategy are components of the City’s overall plans; and is viewed as standard operating procedure

• It is used by SPD, and the City, as a competitive edge

• The strategy supports the City and the SPD’s respective missions

• The strategy is consistently communicated by the City and the SPD • City management and SPD management walk the talk (their audio matches their video)

• The City and the SPD solicit and respond to feedback from all their respective employees • The diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy is used as a selling tool

• SPD and the City use a diversity, equity and inclusion competency skill set successfully

• The strategy provides additional employee benefits for City and SPD employees, and

• There is a clear sense of commitment and responsibility on the issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion by the City and the SPD 7.

Use community gatewatchers to keep up with the pulse of various community factions.

Consultant Feedback: Residents of Salisbury live in a great community; however, like most cities across the country, when it comes to the issues of fairness, equity and inclusion, your work is not done.

Based on feedback received during this process, there is a perception among some that tolerance has not always been a common human ideal in the community or the SPD. Through your work, you understand that as a community you have an obligation to provide equal opportunities for all who choose to participate in the “SPD experience”. You also understand that you must strive to take assurances that everyone, regardless of their station in life, has an equal opportunity to succeed in the SPD. To make sure that this happens, the SPD must continually have its hands on the pulse of the community and its employees.

The SPD cannot do this alone. They must leverage resources, collaborations and partnerships with all relevant constituent groups in Salisbury (including especially communities of color) and keep their eyes open and their ears attentive to the many needs of all residents of the community. SPD partners and collaborators must also be willing to share what they know, what they see, what they hear, what they observe, and what they feel with the SPD.

8. Provide intercultural training for all SPD staff.

Consultant Feedback: Intercultural training for police personnel who must work in a diverse community is a must. SPD has an issue with culture and issues with unintentional bias because of racial/ethnic differences, just like everyone else does. Many police officers are young and may not live in the community. They haven’t had as much exposure or experience with people who don’t look like them. There can be unintentional turmoil and conflict due to a lack of understanding. This issue was brought up several times during the group sessions with officers both Black and White.

9. Partner with the local public-school system to create programs in middle and high school that lead to police service certifications and public safety career training.

Consultant Feedback: Work with the school system to create programs in inner city schools for interested students to attend classes that will allow them to get police service certifications by the time they graduate high school. Be more intentional with the school system to encourage them to put the programs in inner-city schools where you reach Black and Hispanics kids. Be intentional about encouraging students of color about the possibility of police service as a career.

10. Conduct a discipline audit at the SPD.

Consultant Feedback: Conduct a study of discipline in the SPD to assure consistency across the department and across racial / ethnic lines. There were multiple allegations (perceptions), by Black and White staff, that more severe disciplinary outcomes are tied to the race and age of the person being disciplined even if the offense is the same or similar.

11. Conduct demographics audit of SPD by positions.

Consultant Feedback: Revisit SPD demographics to determine where the department may be short in representation by positions across the department/divisions and develop and implement a strategic plan to address this by a certain time/date in the future.

12. SPD Command Team – have the “talk.” SPD Command Team should meet and talk with all SPD personnel and talk about, and hopefully, understand why some in the department feel that there is a perception of a racial divide while others think just the opposite; get the specifics and address as needed; hear them out. Uncover what SPD truly needs to work on to address these disparate allegations and perceptions.

13. City of Salisbury and the SPD review and assess all administrative policies and use a DEI lens to update them all.

Consultant Feedback: City of Salisbury and the SPD should review and assess administrative policies for updates using a DEI lens. Research peer cities who may be using racial equity and social justice tools to gauge the effectiveness of DEI in decisions, policies, functions and budgets. Such toolkits can be useful when assessing inequities in the development, implementation and evaluation of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and initiatives. Using racial equity tools to gauge the effectiveness of DEI may provide opportunities to standardize decision making and strategically maximize diversity, equity, and inclusion opportunities for the city and the SPD.

14. Designate DEI staff oversight.

Consultant Feedback: City of Salisbury designate staff oversight and funding resources at the executive level for the coordination of DEI programs across all city departments: o Prioritize and identify funding commitment o Designate a lead staff position as DEI Manager, with executive level authority – the current Human Relations Manager would be ideal for this, as well as having the lead on development and implementation of a DEI strategic plan o Establish department liaisons to continuously identify areas for improvements

15. SPD develop and implement an anti-hazing policy.

Consultant Feedback: Several police officers stated that the playing of practical jokes in the department is problematical at times because of cultural, age and possibly racial differences. To avoid any claims of racial hazing, it would be prudent to ban this behavior by policy, if in fact it is not prohibited currently. Cultural insensitivity or a lack of cultural awareness could inadvertently increase racial tensions in the SPD and escalate to more serious problems.

In its conclusion, the WPR consultants said that “the best organizations strive for continuous improvement, never being satisfied with the accomplishments of the past, both good and bad. They move aggressively and decisively to address problems and seek long term solutions that address the underlying cause. By implementing the recommendations in this report, the City of Salisbury and the SPD can be confident that it is on the right track to making diversity, equity, and inclusion standard operating procedure with the City and the police department.”

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