WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – The Wilmington Police Department hadn’t changed their mission statement for decades until Chief Donny Williams rewrote it when he took over the department. It now mentions diversity and inclusion, and places a high value on building strong bonds in the community.
The department also added an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion right before the start of the pandemic. COVID-19 slowed down a lot of their activity early on, but now the effort is heating up.
Lt. Leslie Irving is a native Wilmingtonian and has been with WPD for more than 20 years now. Since she joined the force, the percentage of women at WPD has grown from 10 percent to 16 percent of the force.
“Being born and raised here, you see everything, you want to make your agency and Wilmington better,” said Irving. “I have seen more people of color — I would love to see more — but every time I see a female come in, I’m like ‘yes we have more females!’ But I’d love to see more females rise up the ranks.”
As it stands, approximately 80 percent of the department is white, 11 percent is black and 8 percent identify as Hispanic. In terms of gender, 83 percent of the department is male and 17 percent is female.
Recruiting more minorities and women is one reason WPD launched the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Things appear to be moving in a positive direction though. Of 21 new officers joining the department this year, 9 are female.
Four of the 14 WPD lieutenants are women, and WPD named its first female deputy chief in 2019.
Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer Cpl. Crystal Williamson says community outreach is another one of the office’s major goals, an especially important one in a climate where many people don’t trust the police.
“We want to get out there and let people know that we’re here for you, we want to help you. We’re not just here to arrest people and take people to jail,” said Williamson.
Training is another part of the office’s effort. As of this May, all of WPD’s staff went through training for fair and impartial policing, also known as bias training, and they’re working now on getting all of their officers through ABLE, which teaches them how to intervene if their fellow officers are doing something wrong.
”At the point where you don’t wanna train and you don’t wanna learn anymore you probably need to hang up the badge because this job is ever-changing, and we are constantly learning, and we want to do a good job,” said Williamson. “I think for the most part, we are doing a good job. Can we do better? Absolutely.”
Irving says she’s seen the perception of the police change a lot in her time with the department, but she’s hopeful the department’s efforts can touch hearts and remind neighbors why it is the men and women at WPD still choose to wear the badge.
“For us to be willing to go out here and lay our life on the line for someone we don’t even know, that’s very noble for us to do,” said Irving. “We’re here to serve and protect and that’s what we do. We’re still serving and protecting the citizens of Wilmington.”
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