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Former Portsmouth Police Chief Tonya Chapman set the record straight about the reason for her abrupt resignation earlier this month after serving three years as Virginia’s first Black woman police chief.

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Chapman said Monday she was forced out of her job because she tried to change the department’s culture of bias and systemic racism, the Virginia Pilot reported.

She handed in her resignation on March 18 without giving a public explanation for her departure. City officials also refused to discuss the reason behind Chapman’s decision to step down. Chapman was widely viewed as trying to introduce progressive policing tactics in the majority Black city that had a poor relationship with the police before she took over.

“Having been a member of two other law enforcement agencies, I have never witnessed the degree of bias and acts of systemic racism, discriminatory practices and abuse of authority in all of my almost 30 year career in law enforcement and public safety,” Chapman said in a statement, adding, “Some quite frankly did not like taking direction from an African American female.”

Chapman’s community policing approach included encouraging officers to walk through neighborhoods after a homicide. However, some of her officers viewed her reforms as ineffective. After a former cop was convicted of shooting a young Black man, she wrote that “internal strife to include racial tensions within the police department became blatantly apparent to me.”

There’s a lot of independent support for what Chapman tried to do in Portsmouth. Positive interactions between police officers and community members could help dispel racial stereotypes and bias.

Studies have determined that suspicion and fear of Black men underpin police brutality and make for disproportionate arrests. Unconsciously, white people perceive Black men as larger and more threatening than white men of the same build, according to the American Psychological Association.

Stereotypes of Black men as habitual criminals and dangerous people are reinforced through the media, the American Bar Association said. A national survey found that whites overestimated the percentage of Blacks involved in burglaries, drug sales and juvenile crime by up to 30 percent.

Police officers bring those attitudes with them, often unconsciously, when policing Black communities. Police departments across the nation are struggling to help their officers eliminate their bias.

“My goal was to develop a highly ethical, high performing organization that embraces diversity and treats everyone with respect and dignity,” she wrote.


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