'Racial bias' is 'deeply entrenched' in the Apex police culture, report finds

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Thursday, February 25, 2021
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A new report conducted by a third-party consulting company found that racial bias is "deeply entrenched" in the Apex Police Department and that "deep seated racial bias" exists across the Town of Apex organization.

APEX, N.C. (WTVD) -- A new report conducted by a third-party consulting company found that racial bias is "deeply entrenched" in the Apex Police Department and that "deep seated racial bias" exists across the Town of Apex organization.

The report was conducted by Diversity & HR Solutions, a Raleigh company, at the request of the Town of Apex leadership as part of its Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging initiative and released this week.

Apex police officer tells neighbor he was 'appalled' by family Christmas card with Black Lives Matter protest photo

The company interviewed every member of the Apex Police Department as part of the report.

The Town-wide organizational assessment found that some employees didn't feel comfortable voicing concerns for fear of retaliation and that there were mixed experiences within the Town when it comes to inclusion and career advancement opportunities -- "particularly along the lines of racial and gender identity."

The report specifically focused on the Apex Police Department found that, while some described the environment as close and family-like, others called the culture "toxic, stressful, horrendous, less than poor, petty, retaliatory and an absence of leadership."

Regarding racial tension, the report said: "Recent Black Lives Matter peaceful protests have fueled an unhealthy 'us versus them' dynamic between the Town Council and APD. The majority of officers stated they feel unsupported by the Town Council for not supporting the 'Back the Blue event(s)'. Their articulation of the events and depth of the anger is cause for concern as the disappointment and frustration experienced seems to have triggered a need to respond and seek external community support. BLM was often phrased and seen as being equivalent to being anti police."

According to the report, during the interview process, one person in the department said: "George Floyd did not die due to the cops - he was a drug head and ask for it."

Another said: "There is no police brutality, the media is fabricating lies and making our jobs harder. We keep riff-raff out of Apex. We only see blue."

And another: "The officers were disappointed with the Chief when he decided to lock arms and take part in two of the marches that were in Apex."

In an interview with ABC11 on Thursday, Apex mayor Jacques Gilbert, the city's first Black mayor, called the comments "concerning."

"Certainly there's a lot of misunderstandings that are going on here. Our council is committed to this entire community and that's every community in our town. So when you talk about delivery of service we have to ensure that we have the right people in uniform with the right heart to deliver the service that people deserve."

"Our decision to do this was with the understanding that it was going to be unpopular because it is, when you look at a culture, people are used to certain things and it makes people uncomfortable when you decide to take on a proactive measure as we have," he added. "It's going to make people feel uncomfortable but it's the right thing to do. Because it's all about the people we serve."

The report on the police department gave four recommendations:

  • The APD needs consistent and present leadership
  • Appointment of a formal Citizen Advisory Committee/Board
  • Implement ongoing facilitated Listening Sessions between the Town Council and members of the APD
  • Address racism in the department by requiring two-day racial equity training, adding a diversity officer, etc.

"The good news is that the Black and Hispanic populations are low among the citizenry. Racial bias and blind spots appear to be deeply entrenched into the APD culture," the report said. " 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 entrenchment goes deep and will require a multi-pronged approach to change and build a culturally competent and caring APD to serve and protect a diverse community."

Last year, the ABC11 I-Team collaborated with ABC News and ABC Owned Television Stations in reviewing more than 5 million arrest records submitted to the FBI by some 800 local law enforcement agencies.

The analysis showed that in 2018, Black people were arrested on average at a rate five times higher than that of white people. Among 250 jurisdictions, the rate was 10 times higher.

In Apex, FBI data showed a greater number of white individuals being arrested in 2018, but Black people only make up 7% of the population.

When factoring that in, Black people make up 33% of all arrests, thus revealing one of the largest disparities in the state. So, in 2018, there were 12 white people and 72 Black people arrested per 1,000 residents--a 600% difference.

"Apex Police Department is entirely and completely committed to equitable, constitutionally based policing," deputy chief Mitchell McKinney wrote in a statement to ABC11 at the time. "We are focused on continuous improvement and I am confident the training we have engaged in over the last several years to specifically address bias in police service has and will continue to ensure we are providing equitable service to the Apex community."

Apex police officials also pointed to a few factors they said affect the rates, including arrests of non-residents, as well as warrants served in Apex but initiated by other agencies.

Interim police chief Tony Godwin told ABC11 on Thursday he was "disturbed" by some of the comments made by members of the department during the interviews.

"Unfortunately I don't have the full context of the interviews and the conversations to understand exactly how that came about but if that report is accurate, that is, to see comments like that, is very disturbing for anybody but particularly for law enforcement officers that are here to serve a community and to serve everybody in the community," he said. "I'm not proud of those comments but I think we're better off knowing than not knowing because now we can take the necessary steps to make some improvements."