A controversial report on race relations in the Asheville Police Department has drawn sharp criticism from city officials and others, questioning its methodology and execution and saying it’s not what the author was asked to provide.
“The report is a betrayal of trust,” declared City Manager Gary Jackson. “Our decisions about training and developing the department aren’t going to be based on this poorly executed [document].” According to the city manager, the report provides “no documentation for many of its sources or allegations,” and the city has now charged Human Resources Director Lisa Roth and a member of the legal staff with investigating the issues raised by the report.
Produced by Lt. Anthony Franklin of the Richmond, Va., Police Department, the 20-page document asserts that Asheville’s African-American community sees “the department as the enemy.” The report also states that many African-American officers have no confidence “in the command staff to lead them into battle.”
When police officers were shot at in a largely minority community, the report asserts, they were “not contacted by any of the command staff” afterward. Franklin’s report also states, “I was alarmed at the number of persons who emphasized the lack of respect and mistreatment of persons by the police department in the minority community.”
“Look, there’s always room for improvement,” said Police Chief Bill Hogan. “But this was not what we asked him to do. He’s a trainer, not a consultant. He didn’t bother to interview me or any of the command staff, and he obviously sought out people that had an ax to grind with the department. It was not fair, and it was not remotely balanced.”
Management-and-diversity consultant Patricia Digh also blasted the report, saying it’s “so bad in its methodology that I’m not sure what benefit the community gets from hearing the results.” Digh added, “In every police department there’s room for improvement, but this isn’t helping.”
The city is now conducting its own review in an effort to produce “a professional, balanced, factual assessment of the situation,” said Jackson, adding, “When allegations and criticisms like this are raised, we have to look into them.”
A lack of trust
On May 22, Franklin gave an eight-hour instructional presentation on policing in African-American communities, on behalf of the Virginia Center for Policing Innovation, a Richmond-based nonprofit that offers law-enforcement-related training.
At Jackson’s request, Franklin agreed to write up his training methods and impressions of the APD for an additional $2,700, which was paid up-front out of the department’s budget. “It’s a fairly routine thing to ask a presenter,” noted Jackson, adding that although he asked for the report, the actual commissioning of it and the payment were arranged orally and were “all handled within the department.” Jackson, however, took full responsibility for the city’s payment to Franklin, saying, “All agreements like that have to go through Council or the [city] manager, and in this case, it was handled from the management side.”
The city’s chief financial officer, Ben Durant, said that under the city’s guidelines, “there should have been a specific contract for this” instead of an oral agreement.
“I think staff thought that since there was a previous contract for the training [Franklin] had conducted, that this was just an extension of that,” Durant told Xpress. “This was an exception, and we’re reinforcing to everyone in our departments that reports from consultants need their own separate contracts.”
Although Franklin was authorized by the nonprofit to do a training session with the APD, the group had no involvement with the report. “He did this independent of VCPI,” said Executive Director Lynda O’Connell. “He is not and has never been an employee here. Lt. Franklin is with the Richmond Police Department, and we have subcontracted with him to provide law-enforcement training. We had no idea he was doing this.”
On Sept. 10, the nonprofit’s Web site listed Franklin as an instructor. Two days later, his name had been removed. At press time, Franklin had not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Council member Jan Davis minced no words, calling the report “amateurish” and saying it had damaged legitimate efforts to address racial issues. “There’s no question we’ve got some difficulties in the Police Department—there is a perception about how difficult it is for black officers to get a higher rank,” said Davis. “There has been a lack of trust in the community about the Police Department and about them [not] promoting minority officers.”
But he called the report “very biased and very slanted,” saying that Franklin had “talked to some ex-officers who clearly were disgruntled. The whole thing is very sloppy throughout.”
Among the report’s multiple flaws, said Hogan, one major one is that it fails to take into account problems Asheville shares with other departments around the country.
“We’ve got a 17.4 percent African-American population in the city, and 7.4 percent of our officers are African-American,” noted Hogan. “We’re facing increasing difficulties recruiting police officers these days—white or black. When I was chief in Rocky Mount, that’s an area that is 50 percent African-American, and despite a lot of efforts, never more than about 18 percent of the police officers were African-American.”
Although the report correctly notes Asheville’s African-American population, it actually overstates the percentage of APD officers who are African-American, says Hogan. In addition, said the chief, “It ignores our many efforts to reach out and have a community dialogue.” Since his arrival in 2004, noted Hogan, the Police Department has hired more female officers, more Hispanic officers and now has its first female and Native American captains.
Hue and cry
On Sept. 9, the day after the report was released, the Asheville Citizen-Times ran a front-page story headlined “Police Hit on Race Relations,” which has come under criticism from multiple sources.
“It was a bad job for the [Asheville Citizen-Times] to pick it up the way they did,” Davis said. “I wasn’t pleased with the report and even less pleased by the reporting that was done on it—but that’s not to say we don’t have a problem.” Digh said the publicity surrounding the report might actually make the situation worse.
“Any time you’re dealing with race relations on a community level, there’s an opportunity to light fires. It’s a hot issue,” she said. “Part of the problem here was the way this information came out. It was unfortunate. It didn’t appear to me from reading the Asheville Citizen-Times that the staff had done the kind of work they needed to do before publishing this as fact.”
Such publicity, she noted, “might damage the attempts the police have made to improve race relations, instead of helping them.” As an observer, Digh said she’s “not clear what the intentions here are, either from the city releasing it this way or the paper reporting on it. But [the intent] doesn’t seem to be to really get at the bottom of race relations and the police in Asheville—and that’s troubling.
“It certainly doesn’t help to move towards any accommodation and real reconciliation,” she continued. “If Asheville really wants to look at its race relations, there are a lot better ways to do it.”
The report is available at www.mountainx.com/files/APD_Report_Franklin.pdf