- Associated Press - Thursday, February 25, 2021

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Racial bias is “deeply entrenched” within a North Carolina police department where officers feel comfortable making blatantly racist comments, according to findings of a study released Thursday.

The report on the Apex Police Department by Raleigh-based Diversity & HR Solutions was completed last October. It found that comments made by the officers were out-of-touch for serving a multiracial community, although the report provided limited details about the comments and noted that the city has low Black and Hispanic populations.

As of December, the town listed a population of 68,529. Based on figures from the U.S. Census in 2019, Apex is 79% white, 7% Hispanic and 6% Black. It is 15 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of Raleigh.

Details of the study come amidst a time of reckoning for police departments across the country on issues of racial justice and police brutality in light of the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, died May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground for several minutes. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

Some unidentified officers cited in the study said they felt the Town Council doesn’t support police, and one described Floyd as a “drug head” who asked for it and did not die because of the police. Another officer described the Black Lives Matter movement as “an anarchy to create division and overthrow the police.”

The Apex Town Council hired Diversity & HR Solutions initially in 2019 to review the culture within Apex’s municipal offices and make recommendations. The council asked the firm to take a similar study of the police department in 2020.

“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,” the report said.

The study didn’t provide details of what had been said and which of the department‘s nearly 100 officers said it. But interim Apex Police Chief Tommy Godwin called the report disturbing.

“It’s certainly not what we need in this profession and not what we stand for,” said Godwin, who took over the department on Jan. 1. “In a word, it’s concerning.”

The chief said while some criticism of police is deserved, care should be taken not to paint the entire department, and the entire profession “based on the words and or actions of a few.” He said there has to be a culture than normalizes conversations about race.

“It’s an uncomfortable conversation. Most people don’t like to talk about it,” Godwin said. “We’ve got to make that where it’s not as uncomfortable, where we can honestly have conversations and come to understand people that are different than us and hear what they’re saying.”

The report made a number of recommendations, among them a requirement for a two-day racial equity training for all leadership and police officers by the Racial Equity Institute in Greensboro. It also called for targeting more Black, Hispanic and women for recruitment as police officers, and for a diversity officer as well as a diversity committee inside the department.

The city’s mayor, Jacques Gilbert, is Black and a former Apex police captain. He said the city has set up a 14-point plan which includes recommendations from the report. He called the report concerning, but added that the city has begun implementing the report’s recommendations.

“I do understand the position I’m in to lead the town of Apex. I have to not just look out for how I feel, but I have to look out for 68,000-plus citizens and how this impacts them,” said Gilbert, who was elected in 2019. “We have an action plans, and we’re going to move forward with it.”

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