Apex Police, beset by racial challenges, swears in first Black chief

APEX, N.C. (WTVD) -- In his first interview with ABC11 since taking over the Apex Police Department, Chief Jason Armstrong discussed what lessons he brings to the Wake County town from Ferguson, Missouri.

Armstrong was chief at Ferguson PD after the police killing of Michael Brown and was there as U.S. Department of Justice overseers scrutinized the police force. Armstrong said he knows what it looks like to do a deep dive in an organization's culture; and he's going to apply some of the same lessons to turn around the culture at Apex PD.

In the Apex Town Hall courtyard Wednesday evening, Armstrong was sworn in as the first Black chief of police in the town's 148-year history.

"The things that (APD) is doing great, I want to shore those up to make sure I support those," Armstrong told ABC11. "But also, we're going to be tough on ourselves."

The Fayetteville native faces big challenges building trust and changing hearts and minds of Apex communities of color around their police force. FBI analysis in 2020 showed that 33% of arrests in Apex were Black people. But, African Americans make up just 7% of the town's population.

Then, an independent cultural assessment commissioned by town leaders released last winter concluded that racial bias was "deeply entrenched" within Apex PD.

"One thing I'm doing and still doing is having meetings with everybody inside the organization," Armstrong said about his response to the assessment's finding.

The reviewers behind the cultural assessment wrote about a culture within APD where officers were comfortable making comments that were "blatantly racist" and "out of touch for serving a multi-racial community."

Armstrong said the solution is identify the issue and the people; try to affect change through talk and understanding; and root out officers unwilling to change.

"If it's not in your heart to be a good person and if it's not in your heart to recognize it and take ownership and responsibility for what you've done and be open to change... If that's who they are, they won't survive. They won't last here," he said.

Armstrong has been on the job for the past two months. Wednesday night was his first introduction to the public. Now, the real work of rebuilding trust with the community begins.
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