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KPD receives climate assessment report

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Prior to being sworn in, Chief Paul Noel contracted with 21CP Solutions to lead a climate assessment of KPD consisting of voluntary input from all employees.

Knoxville, Tenn. — The Knoxville Police Department said it received the final report from its climate assessment conducted by 21CP Solutions, which highlighted numerous areas where the department is excelling and several areas where there is room for growth.

Prior to being sworn in, Chief Paul Noel contracted with 21CP Solutions to lead a climate assessment of KPD consisting of voluntary input from all employees, both sworn and non-sworn, in an anonymous online survey and concentrated focus groups, according to a release from the department.

KPD said over 95% of its sworn personnel completed some or all of the survey, while over 94% of its non-sworn personnel completed the survey. 21CP assessors also held seven individual focus groups lasting around 90 minutes apiece. Around 70 KPD employees took part in the focus groups.

The full 21CP Climate Assessment of KPD can be found online.

“This climate assessment was a vital piece of my process of evaluating our organization,” Noel said. “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.”

KPD said the climate assessors identified several key areas of strength as described by personnel, including:

  • 93% of all survey respondents reported feeling respected by their colleagues.
  • Nearly 80% of survey respondents reported that there is a clear process for employees to escalate issues with a colleague or supervisor toward a resolution.
  • Around 60% of KPD sworn and non-sworn employees responded that they feel the KPD provides opportunities for employees to develop the skills necessary to advance in their careers.
  • Around 60% of respondents also reported that they feel the KPD does support a culture of continuous training and mentorship for employees.
  • Most employees, both sworn and non-sworn, largely agreed that the KPD provides support for the physical and emotional well-being of employees.
  • Nearly 70% of respondents reported that they have the equipment necessary to successfully perform their job.

“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.”

The report also showed several areas for growth including communication, diversity and inclusion, issues in the promotional process, resources and staffing, and technology concerns.

According to the report, numerous focus group participants recounted instances in which they learned about major events or changes within the department by watching the local news. KPD said employees reported that decisions are often made that impact them without an opportunity to offer input or receive an explanation behind the decision-making process.

The report recommended KPD should consistently provide explanations on why or how decisions are made when the department announces changes to policies and standard operating procedures. When feasible, offer a meaningful process for all, or a representative cadre, of employees to weigh in before changes are made. It also said the chief may want to institute an open office one day a month when members can have a conversation with him or have a set time and day.

Respect, Diversity & Equity

The report said the survey and some focus group conversations surfaced feelings and experiences concerning both racial and gender-based discrimination within the department.

Both Black and white personnel reported experiencing race-based discrimination, particularly around promotional and advancement decisions, but the proportion of Black personnel reporting experiencing discrimination was markedly higher (53% by peers, 71% by the organization), according to the report. Many identified the fact that the department has only 14 sworn officers who are Black, including only one Black female officer, and only one Black officer of rank, as evidence that there is still progress that needs to be made.

The report showed sworn female personnel reported experiencing gender-based discrimination by their peers (26%) at a higher rate than by the organization (21%), commenting that some of their peers do not want to work with females or perceive a need to prove themselves.

The report recommended KPD consider developing a formalized mentorship and leadership program, particularly for officers from underrepresented populations (eg, Black, Latino, female and LGBTQ+ officers).

The report said there is a “widespread agreement across the department that the testing, promotional and assignment processes are not transparent, and require significant improvement.”

Only about half of all KPD personnel reported feeling that the promotional process is fair, based on their experience, and about two-thirds of all KPD personnel believe the promotional process is transparent, according to the report.

Many survey respondents and focus group participants said that friendships, demographics and other characteristics not related to skills or qualifications had undue influence over advancement opportunities, according to the report. Those who had gone through the sworn promotional testing and interview process reported being frustrated by the lack of feedback on what they could do to improve the likelihood of being selected in subsequent rounds

The report recommended KPD should reassess the promotional and assignment process from end to end. Once revised, each step of the process should be documented and shared with all personnel, and it should ensure that promotional criteria are as clear, merit-based and objective as possible.

The report said most employees, sworn and civilians, agreed that KPD provides resources to support their physical (79%) and emotional (82%) well-being.

However, it also said inconsistency, poor communication and lack of transparency in equipment procurement and policy changes, ranging from technology to firearms, outer carriers and patches have contributed to frustration.

Sworn personnel also raised concerns about their body armor with several people reporting that vests were not replaced by their expiration dates, though at least one indicated that wearing an expired vest was intentional, as it was more comfortable, according to the report.

Female officers said that the people who typically take measurements for vests are men who seem uncomfortable measuring women. As a result of not being correctly measured, some of the women feel that their vests have never fit correctly, according to the report.

KPD said Field Operations officers widely preferred a 10-hour shift over the current 12-hour shift or possible 8-hour shift.

The report said the department’s technology infrastructure is “disjointed, inefficient, inadequate for a contemporary police department, and may be vulnerable to breaches.”

The report showed investigators were concerned by the age and capacity of the computers and software available to them, which some reported could not open videos or media shared by victims or download phone contents, due to the age of the system.

Data security is a particular concern, given the recent ransomware attack, according to the report. Despite this issue, some officers disclosed using their personal cell phones to take photos, enter e-citations and dictate report narratives in the field, rather than using the department-issued phone, which they said had less quality and functionality.

The report recommended the department should conduct a comprehensive technology assessment to systematically map out the agency’s current landscape, critical workflows, needs, and vulnerabilities, including the use of personal mobile devices and computers. KPD said it could benefit from dedicated IT personnel as well as a multi-year technology funding plan.

“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 for growth and improvement. We will evaluate these findings, implement them into our larger strategic vision for the department and re-evaluate where we are at in the next 18-24 months once we have the time to implement substantive measures.”