Amanda Fries // Delaware Online
For nearly three years, a trophy proclaiming a Black detective in the Wilmington Police Department the “whitest Black guy in the office” sat on the officer’s desk.
That’s according to City Council President Ernest “Trippi” Congo, who in a newsletter item Thursday, described how a Black male detective in the Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division was presented the trophy during roll call as a Christmas present from his white male supervisor in 2019.
“It has been displayed on the detective’s desk for everyone to see since it was presented to him,” Congo wrote. “While President Congo understands that the recipient might be ok with receiving this trophy, it has offended several Black detectives as well as other Black officers, both rank and non-rank. They are fearful to speak on it because of fear of getting transferred and/or retaliation.”
It wasn’t until a photo of the trophy surfaced on social media that Mayor Mike Purzycki’s office became aware of its existence, said John Rago, Purzycki’s deputy chief of staff. It was then forwarded to police Chief Robert Tracy to further investigate, Rago said. Congo’s newsletter was shared publicly Thursday afternoon.
“We were first made aware of this today, and immediately took action to launch an internal investigation,” Tracy said in an emailed statement. “This is a matter we take very seriously; this message is entirely inappropriate and not in keeping with the high expectations we have for members of our department.”
Tracy said the Office of Professional Standards is conducting a “full and thorough investigation.”
In recent weeks, Congo has blasted department leadership for a lack of communication with residents; an unwillingness to consider solutions presented by council members and others; and an internal culture where rank-and-file members are unwilling to speak out over fear of retaliation by upper management.
The criticisms ultimately led to a vote of “no confidence” in the police chief by council members last month.
Congo had previously expressed concern over a lack of diversity in upper management in the Police Department, and in the newsletter pointed to the racially charged trophy as an example of the work environment officers of color experience.
“There are no minority supervisors in the Criminal Investigation Division for these officers to confide in and to feel comfortable expressing their thoughts,” the City Council president wrote in the newsletter. “This is an example of the culture being displayed in the WPD, and it is unacceptable.”
This isn’t the first time that racial tensions have been on display in the department.
In early 2014, members of the Muslim Delaware community and National Black Police Association stood behind Capt. Faheem Akil, who is Black, after he faced internal charges for calling a white officer by a racial slur. The groups called for transparency in the internal investigation.
According to sources at the time of the incident, Akil had confronted another officer, Sgt. Vincent Knoll, after he used a racial slur against another Black officer. Knoll had used the N-word when referencing a Black officer during roll call, sources said. In confronting Knoll, Akil had used the word “cracker,” although sources’ accounts differed on the context of how it was used.
Esteban Parra contributed to this report.