After 33 years of service in Raleigh, Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown was ready to retire. The 57-year-old had endured a hellish year, with the enactment of a citizen-led police advisory group she vehemently opposed and a summer of destructive rioting downtown.
On December 30, she announced her last day would be April 1, 2021.
But on Thursday, Deck-Brown still will be helming the Raleigh Police Department in an interim capacity because the city is only just starting the process of finding her replacement.
City Manager Marchell Adams-David asked Deck-Brown to stay on while the search for her replacement continues.
The city is still in the process of putting out a request for proposals for a consultant to help assist with the search, Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin says.
“I don’t know that it’s been delayed in so much as it’s taken time to get the consultant on board, and these things do take time,” Baldwin says. “We decided to do an external process, which we knew would be lengthy, as opposed to an internal process with our human resources department.”
“Clearly, this search, which will be a national search, is a high priority for the City of Raleigh,” wrote city spokesperson Julia Milstead in an email to the INDY. She says the city is working to secure a contract with a search firm in the coming days.
Deck-Brown, who receives a salary of $192,813, will not be involved in selecting her replacement. Her last day is now expected to be June 30, with a new chief in place by July 1.
The delayed timeline isn’t good enough for activists pushing police reform, including Kerwin Pittman, who has long advocated for officers to be held accountable for reckless use of force. Pittman has requested the city hire from outside Raleigh because the culture of the police department—including what he perceives as a lack of accountability—is deeply ingrained.
“They are dragging their feet and they should be more responsive in finding [Deck-Brown’s] replacement,” Pittman says. “She wanted to leave and step down, and now they are not facilitating the process.”
Meanwhile, the police advisory board Deck-Brown opposed seems to be crumbling, with the recent resignation of two board members who cited poor leadership and a lack of autonomy.
In a letter dated March 10, board secretary Stacey Carless said she was stepping down due to “blatant disrespect,” “deceit,” and negative experiences with board leadership.
That same day, board member Scotia Burrell penned a resignation letter, which was critical of chairwoman Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi’s dependence on city staff during a recent meeting.
“As I listened to this board’s chair seek guidance from the City Manager, who identifies with law enforcement, [Office of Equity and Inclusion Executive Director Audrea Caesar], and the Mayor of Raleigh, on behalf of a board that has been scrambling for any semblance of power, independence, and transparency we could get our hands on for months, I knew I could no longer serve on this board,” Burrell wrote in her resignation letter.
The road has been rocky for the board from the start. After the council voted to create the board last year, it struggled to get enough applicants. After two rounds of reviewing applicants, the council finally appointed nine members last summer.
Although advocates for years have urged the city to adopt a board “with teeth” that could review use-of-force incidents, issue discipline, and wield subpoena power, this board is limited to reviewing police policy. This is largely due to state law, which conceals most law enforcement records, including personnel files and internal use-of-force investigations.
While the city asked the legislature to consider expanding the powers of its advisory board—which both the governor’s task force and General Assembly have taken up in committee—it’s unclear what, if any, changes lawmakers will prioritize this year.
City Councilor Jonathan Melton says the city is undertaking some police reforms anyway, including adopting the new ACORNS initiative, which will send social workers along with police officers on certain calls.
“I certainly hope that we are able to recruit [a chief] who is progressive and forward-thinking and is willing to help reimagine the role of public safety,” Melton says. “We are asking police officers to handle tasks that are not always best handled by police, including dealing with the homeless and vulnerable members of the community—folks that need help that aren’t necessarily public safety issues.”
While the recent resignations from the advisory board were “disappointing,” Baldwin trusts that the board will stay committed to guiding “policy and trust building in the community.”
Pittman isn’t buying it. He says the board has taken too long to get its footing without taking substantive action.
“This advisory board is … pure fallacy. It is not capable of bringing real change to the Raleigh Police Department or being an accountability mechanism for its citizens,” Pittman says. “When you have players on the board that take cues from the mayor and city manager as to how to respond to the community, that is extremely alarming and shows your interest is not in the community’s interest but in the interest of making the police chief and city manager look good to the public.
“This is more a publicity correction board than a citizen advisory board.”
Follow Senior Staff Writer Leigh Tauss on Twitter or send an email to email@example.com.
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