RALEIGH — Diminutive, quiet-spoken Cassandra Deck-Brown volunteers as a leader with her church’s Girl Scout troop and mentors at the Raleigh Police Department’s Charm School for teen girls.
The first African-American woman to be named chief of the Raleigh Police Department might seem a polar opposite to the man she’s replacing – the gregarious, 6-foot-9 Harry Patrick Dolan.
Deck-Brown, however, speaks just as strongly as the retired chief about the significance of visiting city neighborhoods to informally chat with residents, the importance of mentoring underserved youngsters, the critical partnering with other city departments to prevent crime, and seeking training for her officers in tough economic times.
“You have to listen to your officers. You have to listen to the community,” she said at a public forum last week. “You have to re-invent yourself every day as an officer and learn new ways. You have to give your best to your officers so your officers can give their best to the community.”
Deck-Brown said that after graduating from college in 1987, the Raleigh Police Department was the only law enforcement agency she applied to and, even then, her goal “was to hold the highest attainable position.”
“Police chief?” she remarked. “Absolutely. The sky is the limit.”
Her lofty goal was fulfilled Thursday when City Manager Russell Allen announced her position as interim police chief was made permanent, effective today.
Deck-Brown is also the first chief chosen from within the department since 1994 when Mitchell Brown, Deck-Brown’s brother in-law, was promoted to chief and served nearly seven years.
The Rev. Jemonde Taylor, priest for the 400-member St. Ambrose Episcopal Church Deck-Brown attends in Southeast Raleigh, said he is “overjoyed and enthusiastic” about her appointment.
“There were members of her Girl Scout troop in the audience the night of the public forum,” Taylor said. “For fifth and sixth grade girls to convince their parents to come out on a school night to hear three adults say why they should be police chief speaks of her effectiveness as a leader and a person.”
In addition to the church’s scout ministry, Deck-Brown is a member of the church’s stewardship ministry and the congregation’s senior warden – the highest non-ordained position that a person can hold in the Episcopal Church.
“She is a model parishioner. One who lives out her faith,” Taylor said.
A ringing endorsement
Deck-Brown began serving as interim chief when Dolan retired in October, while a national search fielded 48 applicants for his job. That number was whittled to three finalists: Deck-Brown; Malik Aziz, the deputy chief of police in Dallas; and Bryan Norwood, the chief of police in Richmond, Va.
“All three finalists were just great and brought a lot to the table,” City Manager Russell Allen said Thursday afternoon. “But I think she is the best match for the job. She really stepped up at every step of the process. She’s a known entity. When I first came here she was a sergeant.”
Allen said Deck-Brown has considerable knowledge about the inner workings of the police department and is aware of the “continuum” of what the police department is trying to accomplish.
“She’s a good listener, and she’s fair,” Allen said.
Allen said an integral part of her selection was the feedback he received from Raleigh police officers and from the community.
“They all seem to have a great level of trust in her,” he said.
Rick Armstrong, a former Raleigh police sergeant who is now a business agent with the Raleigh Police Protective Association and the local Teamsters Union 391, agreed with Allen.
Armstrong said the union’s 550 members who are sworn officers with the Raleigh Police Department “overwhelmingly” endorsed Deck-Brown this week. From the rank-and-file officers’ perspective, Deck-Brown is “without a doubt the best person for the job,” he said, because she won the respect of her peers as she worked her way up through their ranks.
“Everyone already trusts her and knows of her integrity,” he said. “Everyone thinks she’s a great leader.”
Octavia Rainey, chairwoman of the North Central Citizens Advisory Council, worked closely with Dolan when he implemented a community policing plan in Southeast Raleigh. She described Deck-Brown as “the perfect choice.”
“She has proven that she can run all operations of the police department, and she knows the city. She brings all that to the table,” Rainey said. “She knows all of the neighborhoods, and she understands community policing very well.”
A determined path
Deck-Brown grew up in Franklin County but spent summers with her mother’s relatives in Philadelphia. It was there that she saw a female police officer on the street one day. The sight of a woman in uniform and in control inspired her, she said in 2006.
Deck-Brown graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in criminal justice, then entered Raleigh’s police academy to join the city force. She worked as a patrol officer, a crime prevention-community relations officer and a detective, before earning a master’s degree in public administration from N.C. State University in 1995.
Promoted to captain in 2003, she became commander of what is now the city’s North District. She later headed the department’s Administrative Services Division and was promoted to deputy chief in 2011.
News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.