UNITED STATES NEWS

Black chiefs to meet amid debate on benefit of cop diversity

Apr 13, 2023, 6:05 AM

Over his 32-year police career in Dallas, Terrance Hopkins has seen tremendous changes in the profession. For rookie Black officers in a predominantly white and conservative field, he said, the prevailing feeling used to be that you were lucky to be allowed on the force.

Now, it is not unusual to see veteran Black officers in top leadership roles. But the issues that plague the profession’s reputation in Black communities — excessive uses of lethal force, racial profiling and routine brutality from officers — have not become relics of the past under diverse leadership. That reality has been laid bare by in-custody restraint death of Irvo Otieno that involved Virginia sheriff’s deputies.

Part of the problem is that too many Black police leaders “walk on eggshells” about addressing bad policing and racism in the force, said Hopkins, the outspoken president of the Black Police Association of Dallas who serves as a tactical special events planner for the city’s department.

“You’re still in a conservative, white male-dominated profession and these guys still have to buy into you. If they don’t buy into you, they’re calling for your job,” he said.

Very few, if any, Black police chiefs believe their mere presence subverts systemic racism in the profession. But as the number of Black law enforcement professionals leading major police departments increases, so do the opportunities to show that diversity on the force can foster better relationships, make policing fairer, and save more Black lives, current and former police leaders told The Associated Press.

“Sometimes it does seem like an unfair burden that, just because (a chief) comes in who is African American, decades of mistrust are just going to melt away,” said Brenda Goss Andrews, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and a former deputy chief of the Detroit Police Department.

“You’re not going to be able to solve that quickly and, in some cases, if at all,” she said. “But the key thing is that you have to take the time to talk to the community and see what’s going on.”

This weekend, Black police chiefs, commissioners, sheriffs and commanders from across the country will gather in Detroit for NOBLE’s annual CEO symposium. Andrews described it as a typically “intimate setting” where attendees feel like “you’re around family.”

The agenda, spread across Friday and Saturday, includes panels on diversity, equity and inclusion; best practices for mental health responses in policing; and managing the response to mass shootings.

This will be the first national symposium since the Nichols case reignited a national reckoning over police use of force and renewed the scrutiny sparked by massive racial justice protests over report on police discrimination in Louisville, Kentucky, from an investigation launched after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in 2020.

The Memphis and Louisville departments are led by Black executives. And there are a number of major city police departments led by veteran Black law enforcement professionals: Commissioner Keechant Sewell in New York City; Chief William Scott in San Francisco; Chief Troy Finner in Houston; and Chief Elaine Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, among several others.

The CEO symposium is named for William Bracey, a former New York Police Department leader who co-founded NOBLE almost 47 years ago. Bracey was elevated to high-ranking chief of patrol in 1979, after 33 years of service in the NYPD.

“I have had no problem with being Black and being a police officer …” Bracey said, according to a biography written by the organization’s New York chapter. “The fact that I do come, in a sense, from two different worlds gives me additional experiences and insights that, hopefully, help me make the right decisions.”

Although modern-day policing in the U.S. has origins in the slave patrols used to control the enslaved population, Black men and women have served as law enforcement professionals since abolition. However, their earliest experiences were far from fair or equal. In Atlanta, the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement, the first Black officers began serving in a segregated unit in 1948 and weren’t integrated with white officers until 1969.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were more than 708,000 full-time sworn officers serving in over 14,700 law enforcement agencies in 2020. The percentage of local police officers who were Black has remained the same at 12%, from 1997 to 2020.

Federal statistics show the percentage of Black police chiefs running local departments that serve more than 250,000 residents has increased over the last decade. In 2020, about 47% of major city chiefs were white, 38% were Black, and 13% were Hispanic. Four years earlier, 65% of major city chiefs were white and 19% were Black.

Former Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant was drawn to the law enforcement profession over 34 years ago because he wanted to ensure the Black community enjoyed the same level of police service and safety that white residents received. Bryant, 56, grew up in an era of missing and murdered children in Atlanta, in the late 1970s and early 1980s when police did not thoroughly investigate the disappearances and deaths of Black adolescents and young adults.

“When I came into the police department, we weren’t a predominantly Black agency,” Bryant said. “But I am confident that we are now very much a mirror of the community that we serve.”

He became chief of the department in Atlanta following the June 2020 police shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, a case that sparked local protests amid demonstrations over Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. Bryant said that even as a Black leader, without the community’s support, it’s hard to do the job. But the community conversations have been easier because he is Black, he said.

“One of the things that I feel privileged about is that, as a Black chief, it gave me the ability to go into certain communities and homes and really hear people and hear their true plight,” Bryant said. “In some communities, they don’t have that same trust, if the person was white.”

Bryant and Andrews, the NOBLE president, said the community of Black police leaders is still small enough that many of them know each other and will reach out to offer encouraging words in moments of crisis. And perhaps contrary to what the public might believe, seeing cases like Floyd, Nichols or Otieno can be devastating, they said.

“This is not what we want to see, this is not what we signed up for,” Andrews said. “Even if we are no longer in policing, we take it personally.”

Bryant said Black police leaders do have a responsibility to educate the broader law enforcement profession how to interact with “our community.”

“Our history with law enforcement differs from many in mainstream society,” the former Atlanta chief said.

___

Aaron Morrison is a New York City-based member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.

United States News

FILE - Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro is sworn in during a plea deal hearing, Oct. 20, 2023, at the Fulton...

Associated Press

Takeaways from the Wisconsin 2020 fake electors lawsuit settlement

More than 1,400 pages of emails, text messages and other documents released Monday reveal details of a strategy by Republican operatives tied to then-President Donald Trump to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory in Wisconsin. The documents — settling a civil lawsuit filed against two attorneys and 10 Wisconsin Republicans who posed as fake electors — […]

26 minutes ago

Associated Press

A judge orders prison for a Michigan man who made threats against Jewish people

A 20-year-old Michigan man who admitted using social media to make violent threats against Jewish people was sentenced Monday to a year and a day in prison, far short of what prosecutors had recommended. A sentence exceeding a year makes someone eligible for good conduct credits and a shorter stay in federal custody. Seann Pietila, […]

32 minutes ago

Associated Press

Venus flytrap poachers arrested in taking of hundreds of rare plant

BOILING SPRING LAKES, N.C. (AP) — Authorities in North Carolina have arrested two people in a case of poaching hundreds of Venus flytraps, which grow naturally in the eastern part of the state. Officers with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission obtained arrest warrants for two people accused of stealing nearly 600 of the rare […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

New Hampshire man who triggered Amber Alert held without bail in death of his children’s mother

A New Hampshire man accused of abducting his children after killing their mother was ordered held without bail Monday. Dustin Mark Duren, 37, was charged with second-degree murder Friday in the death of Caitlyn Naffziger, 31. Police had issued an Amber Alert after finding Naffziger dead in an apartment in Berlin, and Duren was arrested […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

The owners of a Christian boarding school in Missouri are jailed and charged with kidnapping crimes

The husband and wife owners of a Missouri boarding school for boys have been jailed and charged with felony crimes after a lengthy investigation by a county sheriff. Wayne County Sheriff Dean Finch said in a news release that Larry Musgraves Jr., 57, was arrested Friday evening on the ABM Ministries campus in Piedmont, a […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Federal safety officials say Boeing fails to meet quality-control standards in manufacturing

The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday its audit of manufacturing at airplane-maker Boeing and its key supplier turned up “multiple instances” of them failing to make sure manufacturing met quality standards. The FAA said that it found “non-compliance issues” with Boeing’s manufacturing-process control and parts handling and storage. It did not provide details. The FAA […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

Black chiefs to meet amid debate on benefit of cop diversity