I had the pleasure of taking my 10-year-old, Ronni, and a few of her friends, to meet someone that represents not only what Black History Month is about, but Women’s History Month! Since Women’s History Month highlights the contributions of women in history and society, there is no one better to feature, then Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, Raleigh’s first African-American woman Chief of Police. She graciously took time out of her busy schedule, to speak with us.
A Raleigh mom and North Carolina native, Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown joined the Raleigh Police Department in 1987. She was the department’s first African-American woman sergeant in 1997; the first woman to command a Raleigh police district in 2003, and the first woman to attain the rank of major in 2006. She is a proud graduate of East Carolina University and received a master’s degree in Public Administration from North Carolina State University. She has served as Police Chief since February 2013 and has made a noticeable impact on the department ever since.
After a full workday, Chief Deck-Brown took time out of her evening to take the girls on a tour of the police department, where they met her Executive Board and other members of her staff. She explained her educational background and background in law enforcement, why she became a police officer, what her responsibilities are, rankings within the department, and making sure she is visible, so young women know that they can be a part of the male-dominated field. She spent over an hour answering the girls’ numerous questions, and below are just a few of our favorites.
Interview with Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, Raleigh’s first African-American woman Chief of Police:
Ronni: Is your job super fun?
Chief Deck-Brown: Most days, I would say my job is super fun. There are days that it is not. But, to have done this for 31 years – that’s a long time. So, you gotta want to do this. I’ve seen a lot of good stuff, I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff, but what I enjoy doing is what I am doing today. I enjoy engaging with the community, talking to young folks, encouraging, sharing information and trying to keep our young people focused. However, there have been a lot of hard calls. I have gone back to places just to hug people. You have to have the heart to do this. If you don’t, I’m okay with you not being a police officer. The goal is to leave a situation better than you found it. I love what I do, I really do. There are a lot of cool things that I have been able to do, that I would not have been able to do had it not been for this position like I’ve met President Clinton and President Obama. I’ve met Vice-President Biden. I’ve met Mrs. Obama and Loretta Lynch. I have a photo in my house of me meeting all of those people. I’ve spent 15 days in Israel, working with the Israeli Police Department, and their chiefs. I wouldn’t have gotten that chance had I not been in this position.
Victoria: What is your busiest month?
Chief Deck-Brown: It varies for us. January requires me to plan for the next budget year. There are a lot of meetings, all day every day. Back to back meetings. February is also very busy for me personally, because it’s Black History Month. Everyone wants to talk to the Chief. ‘Can you come to this event? Can you come here? Can you have dinner with my group?’ I may be at an event, a dinner, a speaking engagement – all month long. Then March rolls out, and because March is Women’s History Month, I get the same requests from women’s groups. And so, I stay personally really busy, even though it’s for professional reasons.
Lina: Where are the animals, and how many do you have?
Chief Deck-Brown: I have 13 dogs. Some search for people, some sniff drugs, some sniff bombs. When we have big events, like the President is coming, we have them sniff out certain places to make sure someone hasn’t planted something. I have 4 horses. Whenever you’re downtown for a big event, you may see the horses. People love them. The officer that rides the horse is trained to – almost like you’re trained to drive a car, he’s trained to drive that horse. He can make an arrest from that horse, hold crowds with that horse – he can do a lot with a horse. We train the horses like we train an officer. If you hurt a dog or horse, you can be arrested and charged with assault on an officer. So, those animals are treated, in the legal system, like they are police officers.
Vicky: How would you handle a crime?
Chief Deck-Brown: Well, first of all, if a person calls 911, then we respond. And depending on the situation, it determines how many personnel are going to respond, and the types of personnel that respond. So, let’s just say there’s a situation where two people got into a fight, and there are no weapons. There may be 1 or 2 officers that come to that, but if there are weapons, people with serious injuries or there are a lot of witnesses, we may have to bring more than that. If someone is injured, then we have to determine if we need to call EMS and if someone needs to be transported to a hospital. If we can save a person’s life, then we work on them until EMS can get there. We’re trained to handle some medical stuff on the scene. We can give CPR, we can apply a tourniquet, and we all have first aid kits in our cars. After we take care of the medical side, we may provide additional resources if necessary. If there is a domestic dispute between a husband and wife, do they need counseling? We have a Trauma Counselor. That Trauma Counselor can come in, and decide that the children, or the family as a whole, need counseling. That way, they can resolve their issues, so that it hopefully doesn’t happen again. We also have a Domestic Violence Unit. They will help the folks involved in that situation hopefully get to a better place, where they can break that cycle of domestic violence. A lot of times, domestic violence isn’t just a single incident – it happens over and over again. The goal is to try to get people out of those situations, so they don’t end up seriously hurt. After they are offered help, we do a follow-up. We follow up to see if the situation has gotten better and if they are using the resources provided. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t want our help. We just do what we can.
Chief Deck-Brown informed us that she is head of 1 of the top 50 police divisions in the nation, based on size. Raleigh is #42 out of 50, and when the chiefs meet, she is one of the very few women in attendance. She also let the girls know that North Carolina has lots of women in leadership roles in law enforcement. Raleigh, Fayetteville, Durham, Morrisville, Winston-Salem, and Morehead City all have women Police Chiefs, all African-American. In addition, Pitt County has the first African-American woman Sheriff.
At the conclusion of our visit, Chief Deck-Brown added to the girls’ gratitude, by presenting each of them with goody bags filled with gifts. The girls LOVED it! We appreciate her time and generosity immensely. She definitely made a lasting impression on the young ladies, and gave them an example of a woman that has not only made history and shattered glass ceilings but has done so humbly, graciously and with class.