Published: February 22, 2013 Updated 3 hours ago
By Thomasi McDonald — email@example.com
RALEIGH — Cassandra Deck-Brown was chosen Raleigh’s police chief only three weeks ago, but people are starting to recognize her, even when she’s not in uniform.
On a rainy Saturday last week, Deck-Brown says she was at the grocery store in a pair of blue jeans, a sweatshirt and a rain hat with the bill flipped up when she heard a woman call out, “Hey, Chief!” The woman explained that her husband thought she was the new chief, but she wasn’t sure and decided to ask.
“Yes,” Deck-Brown answered. “I am that lady.”
That lady will be sworn in during a ceremony that begins at 11:30 a.m. Friday in the Fletcher Opera Theater at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh. Deck-Brown is the first African-American woman to serve as police chief of North Carolina’s Capital City.
Deck-Brown stands a shade over 5 feet tall and is known as a soft-spoken woman. Her predecessor, the gregarious Harry Patrick Dolan, who retired in October, stands about 6-foot-9.
“Physically, I am as different from Chief Harry Dolan as one can be in ethnicity, gender and height,” she said. “We are nearly polar opposites.”
Still, she described Dolan as a “strong mentor” whose vision for the police department was very similar to her own.
Deck-Brown served as a major and deputy chief during Dolan’s tenure and was part of a team that helped craft the department’s five-year plan, including a community policing initiative widely credited with reducing violent crime in the city, particularly Southeast Raleigh.
Deck-Brown said she wants to continue the department’s community policing efforts. “We have a bridge that has a significant relationship with the community,” she said. “The question now is, how do we enhance that relationship?”
One example is a planned youth development center in the Mini City area for kids without access to educational and recreational activities – kids who might otherwise get in trouble. The police and other city partners are working on the design of the 2,000-square-foot center, which Deck-Brown said could eventually host after-school and enrichment programs in tandem with parks and recreation. She also sees the center housing English as a Second Language classes and mentoring programs.
“I think the opportunities are vast,” Deck-Brown said. “It affords us the opportunity to be creative and think outside the box.”
Deck-Brown credited much of the police department’s success in recent years to the Community Oriented Government initiative that began in early 2009 in the College Park and South Park neighborhoods, where deadly youth violence was prevalent.
Deck-Brown said a number of city departments, including the parks and recreation, solid waste and public utilities, are COG partners who work with community leaders to solve neighborhood problems and prevent crime from taking root.
Two years ago, city officials decided to expand the COG initiative throughout the city.
The new chief said she’s very concerned by the spike in deadly violence in recent months that has resulted in children not old enough to drive being charged with murder.
“It should be a concern for the community as well,” she said. “But it’s only a small percentage of our youths. That should be known as well.”
Deck-Brown has been with the Raleigh Police Department since entering the city’s academy in 1987. She is the first chief chosen from within the department since 1994 when Mitchell Brown, her brother in-law, was promoted to chief.
She said while working as a very young detective with the department’s assault and sexual assault squad, she learned an important lesson. She was working a sexual assault case and decided early on that she had identified the person who committed the crime.
“A seasoned detective advised me to take a look at everything before me,” she said. “Some things were not obvious. It turned out not to be the person I believed was the suspect. I had to allow the case to evolve and follow all the leads.
“The front end in some things is often not how things will end. You need to know that as an officer, and in life, too.”