‘You have to work five times harder’ | Knoxville police officers voice concerns in survey

Several KPD employees voiced concerns about fairness, race and discrimination.
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 5:16 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2022 at 11:50 AM EDT
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KPD Chief Addresses Concerns

Chief Noel speaks to media after releasing results of survey showing concerns among Knoxville officers about discrimination, promotion and technology. More: https://bit.ly/3gs5i8u

Posted by WVLT on Friday, October 21, 2022

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Knoxville Police Department released their findings after a recent survey among employees aimed at determining what they thought of the working climate at the department.

The survey was conducted by 21CP Solutions and highlighted several areas the department is excelling, as well as several where it is not. Chief Paul Noel instigated the survey, contracting 21CP to lead the “climate assessment” prior to being sworn in.

“This climate assessment was a vital piece of my process of evaluating our organization. The findings from the assessment help further my understanding of the ways that I can best support the members of our Department. Collectively as a Command Staff, we will use these findings as a tool to develop strategies and initiatives to improve employee morale and enhance the culture of the KPD.

I really appreciate that the vast majority of our employees participated in the survey and that those who took part in the survey or focus groups were willing to provide very candid and honest feedback.”

Chief Paul Noel

21CP got the following positive feedback over the course of the survey, which included over 95% of KPD’s sworn employees and over 94% of unsworn employees:

  • 93% of respondents felt respected by their colleagues
  • Nearly 80% of respondents said there is a clear process for employees to escalate issues with a colleague or supervisors
  • Most employees said KPD provides enough support for the wellbeing of their employees

“It’s encouraging that employees widely feel respected by their peers and perceived that the people within the Department are a strength of the organization, which reaffirms what I have experienced in my first four months on the job,” Noel said. “It’s also encouraging that our people feel that we generally dedicate sufficient resources to the wellbeing of employees. We still have a lot of room for improvement in those areas, but that says to me that we are on the right track.”

However, KPD also has room to grow, according to the survey. 21CP also found that:

  • More than 40% of employees said KPD does not support a culture of continuous training and mentorship among employees
  • More than 30% of employees reported that they do not have the equipment needed to successfully perform their job
  • Only 32% of employees said the promotional process at KPD is fair. Another 38% declined to answer

In addition to these concerns, employees also felt that KPD is lacking in technology, saying KPD’s technology infrastructure “is disjointed, inefficient and inadequate.”

On top of that, employees voiced “various concerns” related to diversity, equity and inclusion. This comes months after several KPD officers were reprimanded for alleged racist behavior. That incident happened before Noel took command, but he was the one to deliver the reprimands.

“We wanted employees to be completely honest in their assessment of our organization,” Noel said. “We cannot get better if we don’t have a comprehensive picture of where we are as an agency. The assessment highlighted that we have a lot of room from [SIC] growth and improvement.”

The findings reflect more than just the opinions of the department as a whole, however. Specific demographics responded differently to questions than other. For example, only 9% of all employees felt discriminated against by KPD due to their race, that number jumped to 71% among Black employees.

As another example, while 55% of all employees said they felt they had a voice in the organization, only 36% of sworn Black officers felt the same. Additionally, only 57% of sworn Black officers felt there was a clear process for escalating conflicts, as opposed to 78% of the general population.

“When incidents of racism and discrimination are brought up, minorities are told we’re just overreacting, and the incident is not taken seriously by the department,” an employee said. Another responded “If you are a Black officer, you have to work five times harder, and officers will always second guess you.”

“[O]f the Black officers who had experience with the promotional process, zero reported perceiving it as fair, based on aspects of the process such as demographic disclosures on the test, subjective selection practices, and disparate outcomes,” the report stated.

According to the report, the lack of promotions has been a concern. But Chief Paul Noel says the department is now working with the Civil Service Merit Board to change the promotional testing process.

City of Knoxville Community Safety Officer LaKenya Middlebrook explains why it is important to have diversity in the department.

“If we want folks to come and be a part of the department, then they have to see pathways for them to advance in the department. It’s really difficult for folks to see that pathway if they don’t already see folks who look like them represented in those spaces,” Middlebrook said.

35% of Black employees said the department is “not at all dedicated” to racial diversity and inclusiveness.

Female employees also reported feeling more discriminated against than male employees, with 11% of the general population of sworn officers saying they felt discriminated against because of their gender, but 21% of female employees voiced concerns.

“Women have to work extremely hard to prove our worth here,” a comment said.

Noel included a follow-up statement in the report, saying department administration intends to evaluate the findings and implement fixes into the department’s strategic vision for the future. He also said that administration intends to re-evaluate in the next 18-24 months.

“We didn’t get into these problems overnight, and we won’t get out of them overnight,” Noel said Friday at a media availability. He emphasized that the department will be making changes to address the issues, but that the problems would take time to fix.

When he was sworn in, Noel said he wanted to push initiatives that bring people of color and women into the department. Noel told media Friday that the department is working on a digital marketing strategy that will help work towards bringing those demographics into the department.

“Most of the things in there, I expected to see,” Noel said.

You can read the entire report here: