KNOXVILLE, TN — Discrimination is rampant within the Knoxville Police Department, as evidenced by recent survey responses from nearly all of its Black officers.
According to NBC News, an external review of the department conducted in August by 21CP Solutions, a consulting firm focused on improving policing, found that nearly all 15 Black police officers in Knoxville, Tennessee, said they’ve experienced discrimination. None of them believe the department’s promotional process is fair.
Paul Noel, the appointed chief of the Knoxville Police Department, who started in his role in June, commissioned the report. It’s based on focus groups and an anonymous poll, to which nearly all the department’s approximately 360 sworn officers and most of its roughly 100 non-sworn employees replied.
The audit reveals that only roughly a third of the 15 Black sworn police officers believed they had a voice inside the department or that supervisors were open to their concerns or opinions. Twelve claimed they’d experienced racial discrimination. Black officers were also the least likely to state that there was a clear procedure for de-escalating internal department problems.
“If you are a Black officer, you have to work five times harder,” one anonymous Black officer said in the report, according to NBC, “and officers will always second-guess you.”
“When applying for posted positions and training,” an unnamed colleague shared, “if more than one Black officer applied for a job that has multiple open slots, only one Black officer would get selected, and the other one would be told to wait until the next posting.”
The department has only nine female officers — and only one Black officer with a rank of sergeant or higher. Yet, despite the lack of Blacks and women in leadership roles, white male officers thought minority officers received preferential treatment in hiring, promotion, and assignment decisions.
The Knoxville Police Department serves a community with more than 180,000 residents in eastern Tennessee and has long been the subject of claims of discriminatory behavior. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported last year that department leadership tried to cover up an officer’s racist remarks and dissuade a Black officer from filing a formal complaint about the incident.
Recommendations from 21CP for the department include creating mentorship programs for marginalized populations and exerting more effort to ensure that each step of the hiring process accurately represents the variety of incoming applicants, particularly when it comes to background investigators.
Noel told NBC he hired 21CP to assess the department before being sworn in because he wanted to hear candidly and directly from workers. He described the findings as a “snapshot in time,” and expressed hope for a more thorough evaluation of what he called a long-term solution in the future.
These are all things that people in the community and the police department anecdotally knew,” said Noel, NBC reported. “But this is the first time we had a jumping-off point to actually create change.”