Willie “Wil” Glenn played wide receiver at N.C. Central University in Durham.
Two weeks into his job as public affairs manager of the Durham Police Department, Glenn sounds more like the quarterback of a team that relies on a passing attack.
“We need to get information to Durham residents and get it to them fast,” Glenn said. “I want them to believe that what we report happened is what actually happened.”
Glenn has been put in charge of public relations at a police department that has endured unfavorable public scrutiny in recent years. Its officers have been accused of racial bias, and there have been demonstrations, sometimes violent, after the November 2013 shooting death of teenager Jesus Huerta while handcuffed in the back seat of an officer’s patrol car.
City Council member Steve Schewel was among those who were critical of the department’s handling of the Huerta case and says it is “critically important” that the department is “transparent and forthcoming.”
“Especially when the police are involved in controversy, as they have been at times this year,” Schewel said. “Mr. Glenn should help make that happen.”
Last year, a majority of Durham Human Relations Commission members concluded that racial bias and profiling exist “in the Durham Police Department practices” and offered 44 recommendations, including that the agency hire a public affairs manager to regularly publicize its involvement in the community.
Glenn, 40, brings more than a decade of public affairs experience to his new job, including stints as a public relations manager for Wake County government and director of communications for the North Carolina Bar Association. He has lived in Durham since 1992 when he arrived from Greensboro to attend N.C. Central.
That combination of experience and local ties made Glenn shine above other applicants, said Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez.
“I found a local guy. He knows people, and people know him,” Lopez said. “He hit the road running.”
Glenn said his work experiences over the years taught him that interaction with the public must be handled “professionally and delicately.”
“I expect a lot of things here will have to be dealt with in a similar manner,” he said. “It’s not a 9-to-5 job. This is my passion, communicating with people.”
In the aftermath of the Huerta shooting, the department was criticized for not sharing with the public its findings about the teen’s death while the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation examined the incident. The department also came under fire for the deaths of two other residents after encounters with police and allegations of racial profiling in an 2014 report by the human relations commission.
Lopez said the department is still learning, but he says the research behind the commission’s report indicating departmental bias was inaccurate.
“At this point in time, racism is not happening as a practice within this organization,” he said.
Glenn is working on a strategic communications plan for the department that includes guidelines for how the department interacts with the media and how to increase the agency’s presence on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
The department recently used Facebook to explain the increased presence of officers in a Cornwallis public housing community where there has been a rash of shootings. Glenn wants to use Twitter to let Durham residents know what’s happening both in the city as a whole and their neighborhoods.
Schewel thinks Glenn can help residents better understand crime in their neighborhoods by sharing information culled from the Police Department’s monthly meetings in which it discusses crime in the city in detail.
“This is necessarily a confidential exercise, but a sanitized version of it would be a terrific way to inform the public about how the department is doing its work,” he said. “Mr. Glenn could organize that sort of thing.”
Lopez wants Glenn to “promote the Police Department in every possible media that exists” and make sure its story gets told.
“We want to show how transparent we can be,” he said. “We don’t have anything to hide.”
Willie “Wil” Glenn
Family: Married to Chanda Glenn; a 16-year-old daughter, Teyah, and two 10-year-old twin sons, Tyson and Troyan.
Church: Member of Peace Missionary Baptist Church in Durham.
Education: Greensboro Grimsley High School; N.C. Central University, a bachelor’s degree in English and media journalism in 1996; master’s in information science in 2002.
Experience: Assistant director of communications, N.C. Bar Association, 2012-2014; public affairs manager, Wake County, 2007-2012; public information specialist with Durham County, 2004-2007.