Raleigh police chief candidates emphasize community as key to prevention

Raleigh police finalists emphasize community as key to prevention

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comJanuary 25, 2013 

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Candidates for Raleigh Chief of Police (l-r) Cassandra Deck-Brown, Bryan Norwood, and Malik Diaz chat with each other following their public appearance and questioning by Raleigh City Manager J. Russell Allen on Thursday January 24, 2013 at Raleigh City Council Chambers in Raleigh, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Three finalists competing to be the city’s next police chief agree that a sense of family, community and belonging are the keys to crime prevention.

About 100 people, including two Raleigh City Council members, came out in frigid temperatures to a city hall forum Thursday night to hear Raleigh’s interim chief, Cassandra Deck-Brown; Malik Aziz, the deputy chief of police in Dallas; and Bryan Norwood, the chief of police in Richmond, Va. They are seeking to fill the job last held by Harry Patrick Dolan, who retired last fall after five years as chief.

Dolan’s legacy is a community policing strategy that emphasizes youth mentoring and that is credited with helping reduce violent crime throughout the city, particularly in Southeast Raleigh. Community members have asked the city to hire a chief who will continue that approach.

City Manager Russell Allen asked each of the three finalists, narrowed from a field of 48 applicants, the same eight questions. They were given three minutes to answer each question, then allowed to make a closing statement.

All three candidates said accessibility to the entire community and effective communication with both citizens and the officers under their command are essential.

Targeting gangs

Norwood said it is important for police officers to learn as much as they can about the individuals in a gang and their hierarchy of leaders. He would collaborate with other agencies such as social services, probation and parole to determine gang leadership “to help take away the anonymity that’s found in a gang” and work closely with the courts to ensure gang members are prosecuted for the crimes they commit.

“What precipitates a gang to begin with,” he asked the audience. “We have to look at that and form partnerships with social services and parks and recreation to make a change before people get involved with a gang. Then we are doing the right thing.”

Aziz said it’s important to understand the reasons why young people become involved in gangs. Many come from families where a parent may be absent, and the gangs represent acceptance and what appears to be a more stable unit. He noted members sometimes leave a gang because they have started a real family, they find a job or they have a wife who says “that’s enough.”

“What I have seen in some cities – what works – are programs where there are resources, time or money to develop youth programs, after-school programs, the police athletic league, parks and recreation and reading programs. The child who can’t read by the fourth grade is the child who grows up to fill up the jail and prison beds.”

It’s about family

Deck-Brown said understanding the family dynamic is important to prevention.

“A gang is (in) essence a family,” she said. “The youth we engage, what is their family dynamic? What are the partnerships we can form to help strengthen that family?”

And while the police and community focus is often on male gang members, Deck-Brown said it’s important to look at an entire community.

“Not every kid is interested in sports,” she said. “We have to form partnerships with a community-oriented government that realizes the police can’t lock everybody up.”

She also pointed out non-profits and mentoring programs that rely on retired police officers to help.

“The bewitching hour for youth is right after school,” she said. “That’s the time to be involved in a child’s life. Hopefully, we can divert a child, while forming federal partnerships to dismantle gangs.”

The forum was broadcast on the city’s cable TV channel.

If the city selects Deck-Brown, she would be the first African-American woman to head the department and the first chief chosen from within the department since 1994. That year, Deck-Brown’s brother in-law, Mitchell Brown, was promoted to chief and served nearly seven years.

Aziz was one of two finalists for the Fayetteville police chief’s job earlier this month. That job went to Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s deputy chief Harold Medlock.

Norwood began his career in New Haven, Conn., and was chief in Bridgeport, Conn., before joining the Richmond department in 2008.

In advertising the job, the city said it was looking for someone with “eight years of progressively responsible executive-level experience in police operations and management.”

The Raleigh department has about 770 sworn officers.

McDonald: 919-673-5036

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