Nearly all 15 black officers at the Knoxville, Tennessee police station have felt discriminated against, according to an external assessment by the department. And none of them think the promotion process is fair either.
The recently released review was conducted by 21CP Solutions, a consultancy specializing in improving police work. It was commissioned by the new Knoxville Police Chief, Paul Noel, who took over the role in June.
The findings follow years of accusations, meticulously covered by the Knoxville News Sentinel, on racist behavior in the department, which serves a city of more than 180,000 people in eastern Tennessee. Last year, the newspaper reported that department leaders had tried to cover up an officer’s racist comments and dissuade a black officer from filing a complaint about the incident. The controversy was indicative of a bigger problem of racism in the department, several officers told Knox News at the time.
The new climate assessment is based on focus groups and an anonymous survey, in which nearly all of the department’s approximately 360 sworn officers and most of the roughly 100 unsworn employees responded. The survey was open for two weeks at the beginning of August.
The results offer a rare, bare-bones look at the department’s internal culture and paint a stark picture of lingering racial divisions.
“If you’re a black officer, you have to work five times harder, and officers will always question you,” an anonymous officer said in the report.
Another says: “If more than one black officer applies for a job with multiple vacancies, only one black officer is selected when applying for positions and training and the other is told to wait until the next vacancy. ”
Only about a third of the department’s 15 black sworn officers said they felt they had a voice within the organization or that their supervisors were receptive to their concerns or feedback, the report found. Twelve said they felt the organization had discriminated against them because of their race. Black officers were also the least likely to say they felt there was a clear process for de-escalating problems internally.
Despite the lack of black officers and women in senior positions in the department — with only nine female officers and one black officer in the rank of sergeant or higher — the report shows that white male officers believed that minority officers receive preferential treatment. in hiring, promotion and allocation decisions.
In an interview with NBC News, Noel said he contracted with 21CP Solutions to conduct the review before even being sworn in as a chief because he wanted to hear directly from employees in an honest way. The conclusions of the report, he said, are “pretty clear.”
“These are all things that people in the community and the police knew anecdotally,” he said. “But this is the first time we’ve had a starting point to actually create change.”
The report recommends that the department step up efforts to ensure that each stage of the hiring process reflects the diversity of incoming recruits, especially among background researchers. It also proposes developing mentoring programs for underrepresented groups.
federal data released in 2020 suggested most police departments in the US are notably: more white than their surrounding communities. In recent years, amid many high-profile deaths of black Americans at the hands of the police, a significant number of black officers have left some of the largest departments in the country.
Noel called his department’s review a “snapshot,” but he hopes for a more complete assessment of what he called a long-term solution sometime in the future.
“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, nor do we get out overnight,” he said.