Our Black in Blue-Being Black in the Law Enforcement Industry Part 1

The Utility Team would like to spotlight the unique experiences and perspectives of prominent African Americans in the Law Enforcement Industry during Black History Month under the theme Our Black in Blue. In this blog, we have the pleasure of speaking with Deputy Chief Kendale Adams of the Indiana Metropolitan Police Department.

Photo Credit: Interactive One, LLC.

Deputy Chief Kendale Adam has served IMPD for 24 years holding the positions of Sergeant (1997), Police Lieutenant (2018), and his current position as Deputy Chief (2020).

As Deputy Chief, he oversees policy development, general crime analysis, body-worn cameras, discipline and internal governance of the department.

He has overseen the introduction of several high-profile policies such as the use of force and pursuit policies and the deployment of over 1300 body-worn cameras.

The Experience of African Americans in the Law Enforcement Industry

Kacy-Ann Brown:

So tell me what was your reason for joining the law enforcement industry.

Chief Kendale Adams:

Oh, my goodness.

Well, I think you know I wanted an opportunity to serve. I think some of the, you know important aspects of my early childhood was mentorship and you know, often I was asked you know “What can you do to change our Community” and often the answer or the responses I got back from elders within our Community was service. Service to your community there’s no greater gift, you can give to your. That of service.

I chose the area of law enforcement, because one of my mentors at the time was an Indianapolis Police Department police officer and had a very big impact in my early childhood innocence.You know that that seems like a noble and professional career or noble and verbal career in so I say all that to say that you know, he was a big influence in my life, he later went on to the FBI, but that was a nexus for me those two kind of thought processes help develop my mind around becoming a law enforcement officer.

Kacy-Ann Brown:

What was the name of the officer who inspired you, I didn’t I don’t think I got that?

Chief Kendale Adams:

His name was Kenny Smith who later went on to be an FBI agent with Federal Bureau of Investigation, but we stay in contact he was actually mentoring me kind of just providing a strong male influence in my life at the time and I don’t think he had any thought that I would be a police officer certainly that wasn’t his intent. But because of who he was, because of the impact he had, it helped direct my path very early on my life.

And I credit that as you know most, a lot of who I talk to today, they have no idea what they want to do. I mean they’re in school their high school, some of them even in college they still don’t know what they want to do.

I had the benefit of knowing that Law Enforcement was a profession that I wanted to pursue early on, so it helped direct my path in terms of my college pursuits and making sure that you know I stayed primarily, out of trouble. So I knew that if you wanted to become a police officer you had to have somewhat of a clean record. My point is that, it helped direct my path, even as late as college.I graduated college and was able to join the police department right out of college so I had a job.

All those things I credit to Kenny Smith and the mentors that I had in my life but it really goes back to an act of service. It was no greater deed to serve my community through Law Enforcement.

Kacy-Ann Brown:

That’s definitely very admirable Chief Adams. It’s very common that I’m realizing some of the best officers that I’ve come across at the different levels, whether it was Chiefs or even Sheriffs like a lot of them just have that calling. They just knew that they wanted to go ahead and commit to their community in service, and I think that passion is really what separates some really really good persons in the force. I’m glad that you share in this passion and that commitment to your community.

Would you be able to describe your unique experience as an African American serving in The Law Enforcement Industry like when you first started in that early part of your career compared to now? What did that look like?

Chief Kendale Adams:

Great question. I think starting out you see some pendulum shift in our profession you know this reform era. Actually, I was getting on in the late 90s which was the professional era to the reform era to now the community policing era. It’s been interesting to see that pendulum switch between those three dynamics. I joined a force that was not very diverse. Actually we were about 15% percent back then and we’re still about 12 and 15% diverse but I’ve seen a more intentional focus from law enforcement leaders to be more diverse.

They understand that diversity, not necessarily just in color but also in race in thought processes. When we have that kind of dialogue at the table, we are much better as Law Enforcement Leaders, we are much better as a profession, you know.

One of the things that is very unique to law enforcement, we should be very representative of the community we serve because again, we are about service to the community. The only way you’re going to be about service is to have people of different backgrounds different perspectives sitting at the table.

I think, as I look back on my career today, I think the most pleasing part of the profession is that now we are starting to make significant inroads in terms of diversity. Not just in color but in race. I’ve seen more African American and Latino Police Chiefs and Sheriffs ascend to the highest positions of their organizations, which to me makes all of those organizations better. It makes our community better because now you have people you can see at the top that you can aspire to be like. You can see a pathway to being a Chief of Police when you have a female or an African American or someone that’s gay. When you have those different dialects at the top, you can see yourself ascending and it motivates other officers to want to ascend to the top.

I think we still have a lot of work to do there’s no doubt about that in terms of our profession, we still have to continue. Now we think about diversity and a lot of folks that I’ve talked to say “yeah I don’t think I want to be the police, right now, you guys are getting shot, you guys are hated”. We have to really think about what is the most appropriate way, what is the most , as as the private sector says, what is our most return on investment in terms of diversity. Can we get more African American females and Latinos through the door and then part of that question is how can we get more African American females and Latinos in positions like mine.

Kacy-Ann Brown:

Definitely. What you’re saying is so true. Being a part of a diverse force, it really allows you to have different perspectives and different experiences come into decision making. It also inspires the next generation to be able to look and see a force that reflects them. So I think this is definitely very important and I’m glad that there have been strides that have been made. This moves on to my next point.

You kind of touched on it a little bit, but I’d love for you to kind of dig a little deeper in terms of what strides or what improvements are still needed to progress. I know you acknowledged that were made, but also what do you think needs to be done to progress even further?

Chief Kendale Adams:

Well, I think we have to continue. I mean law enforcement agencies have to really take an intra look at themselves and say you know are our hair standards, for example, you know, do we have these stricken standards from the professional era right where police departments were trying to become more professional and kind of rid themselves of the political era. Do those standards, sometimes deter people from wanting to be the police. From tattoos to mustaches to beards to different hair gear that headgear that individuals may wear because of their religion or you know African American men or women may wear the locs.

We have to continue to look inward. Are there things that we have superficially right have nothing to do with policing, so to speak are those opportunities to readjust. Certainly there are arguments on both sides, you know why you wouldn’t want someonewho has lots right. The easy argument is well you know you might be fighting with somebody and they pull your hair right legitimate, but how often does that happen.

This goes back to a principle that I truly believe in it’s evidence based it’s researched. We can’t just throw out what may occur because it may occur, but if the percentage is very low, then, again we go back to that return on investment. Yeah that may happen, and we need to train to that. The benefit to that is we make African American females who feel more comfortable applying. The reason its so important that we diversify our ranks is because oftentimes when African Americans, Latinos or other races come on the department they’re the minority, and so they feel an effort to assimilate.They feel an effort to not be themselves, so to speak. So the more diverse agencies are, the more the environment is accepting of them.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. The reality is 25 years ago when I walked in to a role call I was surrounded by the majorit: all white men. So you know you don’t feel comfortable being yourself or saying how you feel about things because you’re surrounded by all white men. Agencies have to continue to be purpose minded in environments where minorities are not the majority. How can we make our environment more inclusive you know.

I often use this analogy, I didn’t coin it, but its true diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being able to dance right, being asked to dance and that’s so true right. I mean it’s not just good enough to say “well yeah I mean we have diversity in our agency”. Do you include that diversity within your decision making and that’s the important aspect to not only diversity also inclusion.

Kacy-Ann Brown:

I’m definitely with you in sharing that point of view Chief Adamas and that is kind of part of why we’re really pushing to really explore the Our Black in Blue discussion because we are giving a spotlight to these experiences to help persons like yourself know that these are issues that we are aware that society is going through. We need to be able to hear these experience to be able to understand it and be mindful of it in terms of progression in society with policymaking or even higher level activities. I do appreciate you kind of exploring that and being cognizant of that within your department.

Chief Kendale Adams:

One thing I’ll add I think is important, you know oftentimes when we talk about legitmacy we think of it from an outside perspective. I challenge agencies to have legitimacy within the agencies as well. It’s not good enough to say we want legitimacy within the community, we certainly do, and I think agencies work very hard at that. But I think where we lose a little bit as a profession is we sometimes forget legitimacy is also inclusive of our workforce, and so we have to find ways to have legitimacy in the agency and the only way that’s going to happen is if we get out of our comfort zone, so to speak.You know that we partner with an African American officer to hear their experiences.

I think we have to find ways to increase legitimacy not only externally, but internally as well.

Current challenges faced by Black Law Enforcement officers

Kacy-Ann Brown:

When I had recently gotten in touch with a couple Sheriff during the National Sheriffs Association Conference myself and Kristen as well as Jason who are members from Utility Inc. We actually went to represent our company at The National Sheriffs Association conference in Washington DC. We came across a lot of Sheriffs and they definitely shared their perspective on the hiring process, which is something a lot of people realize is actually having quite an effect recently. I wanted to address this as well. With the wave of Black Law enforcement Officers reaching a certain retirement age in addition to political tensions that have affected the communities relationship with Law Enforcement how has your recruitment efforts in your department been affected and what are you actively doing to combat that?

Chief Kendale Adams:

Yeah that’s a great question and I think one of the things we recognize with these generations is that you know, when I came on the agency, I was just happy to have a job and locked into that job for foreseeable future. I think, with this generation it’s about relationships and our recruiters have done a really good job of evolving from just saying “Hey join the Police Department” to more of “Let’s build a relationship” particularly for people of color black and brown right.

White males are going to always apply for law enforcement, whether Sheriff or City Police so there’s not a whole lot of recruitment that needs to go around that. Where we struggle is females and Black and Brown and so what we’ve done specifically with those is target like athletes, for example. Athletes that aren’t going to pros, obviously military. But more importantly, the high schools right in trying to partner with them. The ideal partner with the high school, for example, is about building relationships, so that they know when they go to college or they turn twenty-one that this is an an opportunity for them to consider. I know our recruiters go to coffee, we have a par program which essentially is our physical agility program that they can come out and they can you know bond with other individuals that may be trying to get through the process. We do runs we do push ups, we do sit ups.

We do that every Thursday not so much to just get them physically ready, obviously that’s the main point right to get them physically ready for a physical agility process. But more importantly its about bonding with mothers. I know just today, I was leaving a swearing-in ceremony for several of our new officers in 10 of those officers came from our par program where they developed relationships, they understood that, as a single mother. You know, we will be here to support you, and here the resources to support you.

So we’ve really worked really hard at evolving our recruiting process, obviously, we still go to college, we still recruit regionally, but really I think I think the pivot for us is about meaningful relationships, particularly with people of color and females.

Kacy-Ann Brown:

I really appreciate that you guys are really stepping up to the plate kind of acknowledging the issues that are going on in recruitment and kind of figuring all ways that you can combat those different ways really not being focused on like the traditional ways of hiring but kind of going above and beyond, to make connections with people and allowing them to see the opportunities that they’d have joining the force. I really think that’s refreshing, especially now with the hiring issues that people are having worldwide really I will.

In terms of issues that people are having worldwide, there are some recent events that I’d love your opinion on in terms of Hall, we are acknowledging and moving past the police force, so the recent incidents of George Floyd and then in 2020 and the storming of the Capitol and those events in time definitely had an impact on the Community and the police force and their relationship with one another poll hazard apartments and within yourself as a chief how have you been able to kind of manage your home and your alliance during times of conflict such as these?

Chief Kendale Adams:

Yeah, that’s a great question right, I mean I think we’ve all been challenged fashion individually, as some of the events that we’ve seen transpire across the country that you know, I think that I remind our Community here that there is no national police right, I mean what you see happen in another State or city may not be able to hear I think what we have to do as a profession as an agency, we have those events and see how we can get better so, for example. When Sandra Bland in the no-knock warrants issue came up we’ve been those for our agency in 2027 our agency, no longer serves no-knock search worse now, obviously, we did that.

Not necessarily in response to Sandra bland because our SWAT team had approached the executive staff and said hey we don’t think this is a good practice, not only for us, who trains frequently a good practice for. You know, are proactive units in, we need to band so that it doesn’t you know it doesn’t occur here so. If Taylor moves very quickly on that and in 2020 we banned it, I think, is actually July 2020 so my point is, you know we have to be mindful of those of those.

Unfortunately, as a public servant you no longer are anonymous right even even when you have your Facebook lock down to you know just your friends. Unfortunately, you lose a little bit of yourself, and you have to be mindful that you are reflective of a bigger call us right, and so we constantly remind our police officers of that. You know, obviously tactically we learned things you know we learned things from the January six event about preparation and making sure that we have the appropriate resources in place.

For what we believe will be a small event right but still being have situational awareness to spin up resources, so we try every event that happens across the to see how can, or what not not to play armchair quarterback or or criticize another agency, but we any profession learns from the mistakes or the challenges past, and so we, as an agency, are doing that, with us body cams do that not only increased transparency and you know, increase confidence in the police department, but we use it as a training tool we’ve used it to make sure our officers, because ultimately we want to preserve the life of a another person or ourselves, and if we, we have a responsibility, we see something. In those videos that’s concerning to address it and.

You know, make our agency better make our Community better so you know the short of it is, I think we use all of these instances to learn to give or we don’t we don’t criticize.Certainly, law enforcement is a very unique job you know I often have these conversations with folks in the Community, that you know officers having a process, a lot of information and quickly make decisions and and we’re human and sometimes that can be the wrong decision and.

Certainly there, of course, there are there are passed to correct that but I think as a profession, we have to choose the path that we want to do better and use these as learning opportunities.

Kacy-Ann Brown:

I definitely appreciate that moving forward already you kind of have your department in a frame of mind where an event happens that they’re able to kind of update their policy or way that they are doing things and just a practice of being mindful of events that are happening in terms of your policing and I think that definitely admires that your department is in that frame of mind to kind of think these things through. Because it really does reflect on your police force, it reflects on hold the Community looks at their own police force and it affects their relations, and all of that just ties in together.

So we did touch on diversity in the law enforcement industry of what I was looking into a lot of articles that really touched on the importance of it linked to lessen policing disparities and by that I mean there are a lot of articles out there that speak about the difference in how colored police officers compared to non-colored police officers my approach certain situations and how the outcome may be warned violent or less violent depending on those factors with That being said how important is it to have a diverse police force in?

Chief Kendale Adams:

Italy we kind of touched on that earlier, but I think you know the reality is not only by color but by gender, I think you know, having a diverse police department helps with all of that right, it helps with us as a force it helps with the legitimacy it helps with the Community can now see someone of authority who looks like them, and maybe has a different reaction

I think oftentimes what you get with diversity is you get empathy because people see themselves as police officers who are black and Brown and or a female can see themselves in you know. A single mother who’s driving on a suspended license right she’s just trying to get to work right, I mean she’s it’s unfortunate they’re like suspended, but she needs to get to work to feed for her children and I think a female officer can see it from that lens and provide empathy that provides a way a pathway for that person to get out of that cycle right because you know, sometimes is, as the majority, you know we just see it as hey you broke the law, you know, unfortunately, gotta get another ticket, but what they don’t see on the back end of that is.

The repercussions of that right some license were already messed up. Now we’ve made it more messed up by writing her another ticket for you know, a light out or you know, Dr. Jones has been a nice so now she has doubled the fields, so the reality is that that that person is never going to get out of is just going to keep compounding, so I think sometimes when you have a female officer black and brown also they can see it from that perspective and choose to turn it in you know, I think, having a more diverse agency say force, it is certainly drive an agency to think outside the box right not that everybody needs a ticket not that everybody needs to go to jail right, and when you have a more diverse agency, then those conversations are more likely to occur in the acceptance of that alternative outcome. Will be more accepted.

You know I think all of those things play into and again when you have more chiefs that are female or black and Brown, then this idea of alternative outcomes for people both black and white. To pay to take a priority, does that make sense. I do appreciate that well, based on what you said earlier that there is hope and there are strides that are being made in terms of diversity.

Kacy-Ann Brown:

I do appreciate that as well, based on what you said earlier that there is hope and there are strides that are being made in terms of diversity.

Before it probably wasn’t as diverse in terms of persons on the force, whether they were colored or they were female or they had a specific sexual preference, but now they’re the doors are slowly opening more conversations are being had policies changing to reflect that and so it’s definitely heading in a good direction.

So, with the current events, a lot of news outlets, as well as a lot of Members of the Community have been. Speaking about policy changes that me needs to be looked into in regards to this or the law enforcement industry, a lot of persons views are that the police industry or police department should be defunded or some of that should be allocated in a different way to different causes, what is your view on?

Chief Kendale Adams:

Well, I mean the reality is, I think, police departments are always open to alternative finances right we understand you know part of why we’re in a paradigm shift, we are is because you know to go to cut back in so unfortunate is really the only tool that we have when you think about, for example, you know, think about the deep funding that has occurred, I don’t care what state you go to it’s in every state how they’ve closed down.

You know institutions that serve those suffering from mental health now some of that was for good, because some of those institutions were doing.
Some very bad things to people, but what they ended up doing was they didn’t put anything in place to address those you so what happens is the largest form of government most government is police and so they’re left to deal with the citizens that were made years ago to not put appropriate funding in mental health space, for example, or we look at the funding, you know so, so I am a proponent of looking at ways to.

Reprioritize police response, however, I’m not a proponent of defunding police because I don’t think that you know the reality is, you need police, I mean there are some very bad people that are in our communities that only the police are equipped to do.

Now I am all for you know reimagining police and reimagining police response right, you know is sparking everyone up or you know, small amounts of marijuana the right answer I think most would tell you to know it’s not right, but we do need to be more focused on violent offenders, those that are caught up in the cycle of violence and obviously small amounts of narcotics can lead to that, but if there’s no evidence that small amounts of narrow narcotics lead to violence, then you know, do we need to look at real prioritizing police resources because reality is, you can go across the country every police department short.

Right, so we have limited resources, so we need to be strategic and where we put our resources and need to be focused on the violence that permeates our Community and I think, as you know, as I look back over my career, you know I can I can look at you know how we in communities across the country. You know there’s there’s not funding for education there’s not enough funding for healthcare there’s not enough funding for mental health and so, all of that, then typically falls back on on law enforcement to have to be the first responders you know firefighters, to be the first responders to deal with those issues because we are the typically large form of government.

Moving Forward

Kacy-Ann Brown:

We really not necessarily removing the scores, because this is very important in terms of aiding the citizens in terms of ensuring their safety secure but probably reimagining how the funding might be allotted or what is given one focus on where we need dropbox, but it should never probably be the conversation, do we need first responders Syria so I definitely see where you’re going with that one definitely important for us to kind of really sit back probably not a hard and fast rule about things, but definitely, policy changes could be made. Yes, you consider these kind of aspects moving forward.

So we’ve talked a lot about transparency and the safety of the Community and of officers what actions you think need to be taken? In general, really to improve trust between the Community and law enforcement agencies?

Chief Kendale Adams:

Well, that’s a good question, I think one. You know continuation of that community-police relationship it, you know we have to I think to provide more opportunities for more people from the Community be at the table to off the police departments are dictating out to communities, this is, you know this is how we’re going to police in with little input from Community, so I think we have to continue to seek those. Individuals in our Community that normally wouldn’t be at the seat and and them to the table, I mean to, we have to contain the data and we have to continue to provide that data to our Community, in a way that they can see for themselves, you know what are the outcomes of police.

You know interactions not just from traffic stops from you know pedestrian stop you know crime rate, you know we have to be able to continue that kind of data, because that builds legitimacy and trust as well, and then Thirdly, I think up leaders have to continue to use technology to enhance that relationship with the Community, you know more and more people, particularly coming out of the coven pandemic were more technology more savvy with technology more you know you just think about how this particular is being conducted via zoom right to five years ago we’ve been flying from here to here to have these meetings in person, but now there’s this new platform for our communities to engage in and for business to be conducted, I mean major multi-billion dollar businesses are conducting board meetings via zoom so if multi-billion dollar companies can do it can we use technology to engage the Community more to make them feel.

More part of the police and that’s more important now, because often those groups that won’t come to city headquarters to meet with the police can now, but in the comfort of their own home in their own environment and really provide the police department some some some key outcomes for them to consider, so I mean those are three things I think easily can be done in this era to continue to increase police legitimacy create increase trust with the Community, you know, obviously, within that technology, the the continued expansion of body worn cameras public safety, cameras you know all of shots or not thinking i’m not sure the detection systems that are being deployed LP ours facial recognition, I was just looking at some technology, the other day that allows a software to focus in on a on a gun, you know and tell the police department gun analytics So these are all things within that technology space that I think could be stood up and discuss with entities in a way that it enhances trust and transparency, which in bills transparent build trust with the police department

Kacy-Ann Brown:

You really touched on the importance of really embracing technology moving forward to maintain transparency and accountability, or with your community and you definitely are well entrenched in the body-worn camera industry in terms of the technical technology that utility has to advance those efforts.

With that in mind, I’d love to get your opinion on this statement “body cameras are shedding light on issues compared to before” what are you in general.

Chief Kendale Adams:

Yeah, I think, yes, I mean the answer to that is yes it’s giving our Community a sense of the reality that police officers face right I think it’s given it’s opened a door that didn’t exist before it’s always been there, but I think body cams have brought it to the forefront in a way that it’s digestible me now obviously there’s a lot of text that’s missing, and so I think police departments have to really work kinda like we have here every officer-involved shooting.

We have a community that comes together and they view video body cam surveillance video and we talk about it because we produce from the body cams we produce or in-car cameras we produce an edited version of the events that led up to that officer ball she and so we spend right before we released that publicly to the media, and to the rest of the public, we spend time with Community Members about 25 of them on a call on a zoom call again using technology, because we understand people are busy.

But using that technology we provide them a draft copy of that of that video to answer any questions they may have. And it’s not uncommon that they asked hey, why did the police officer do this or could you edit the video so that it, you know reflects a little bit more of this so it’s a given take in we when I say we were not the producers of the video we actually send the video to California to transparency coordinator, who takes care of putting the video together, along with the 911 call and the body cam and any other surveillance video we have. But my point is, we take that conversation that we use with the Community to really push out with product would be and I know and seven or eight.

We’ve had a couple of videos that we sent back to California that said hey After talking with the Community can you adjust the video to show this again it’s not a representation of was the police officer’s right was the suspect wrong, it really is just this is what occurred.

And this is what the officers had with when they decided to take police action so we do that in a timely manner we try to get those videos done within a week to two weeks of the incident so that there’s no delay in getting that information out so again having that technology readily accessible having that technology.

You know, with the availability of getting it to California all of that is played well into our ability to build trust with our Community and provide understanding for what police officers are having to deal with in these very stressful moments.

Kacy-Ann Brown:

I’m glad that the technology is able to make things less of a guessing game and allow officers to kind of focus on their main duty, which is to protect and to serve your community and also to keep yourself safe the technology that you speak of all definitely kind of allows officers to focus on that might, while also keeping accountability between themselves and the citizens as a Center so I’m glad that, right now, the law enforcement industry is really embracing technology as a friend.

With their efforts and I hope that this continues to improve all the time, it sounds like it definitely will if Members of your department are influencing others for sure.

The last question, I had for you really which ties everything together is what role does the effective use of body cameras and in-car systems play in carrying out your role in improving community relations? I know that this is specifically catered to you because this is your focus within your department or one of the roles that you play within your department so definitely shed some light on that from you, yeah I mean we’ve kind of talked on bits and pieces of it, but I mean just highlighting kind of these things that we talked about it, I think it increases better transparency.

Chief Kendale Adams:

Quicker resolution. One thing I think sometimes gets lost in this is corroborating evidence right so and I didn’t touch on this, but you know how many statements have we got for homicide detectives on body cams right and we see that in real-time, as opposed to trying to transpose turn on the screen, but as to transfer that from somebody notes it then I did touch this Lastly, I think it really provides training opportunities for officer so really when you look at those five areas I think technology body cams have really helped us in those areas specifically for our agency. And you know I I’m not sure we would be as far as we are with our Community, had we did not have recognition of the algae but what the technology could do for us as a police agency.

Kacy-Ann Brown:

Well, I think you covered some really important topics today Chief Adams, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me about these issues, and more than information for myself to absorb this is also going to be critical for persons who are in your space for navigating these challenges to better overcome it.

Not enough light is shed on these issues from a diverse perspective, so I appreciate you taking the time to kind of dive deep into some of these issues that are faced within the law enforcement industry

Thank you so much for your time.

Chief Kendale Adams:

Well, thank you guys for this endeavor I think it’s an important perspective that needs to be amplified across the country and I just hope that my colleagues across the country look at diversity, look at transparency as wins, as opposed to just something they have to deal with.