Inclusion and Representation in Law Enforcement, with Major Derri Stormer

Derri Stormer is a Major on the Wake Forest University Police Department as well as the founder and president of Stomer and Associates Consulting. As a Black woman in law enforcement, she has felt microaggressions, has broken through stereotypes, and has risen through the ranks.

“It’s one thing to be in the room, but it’s also another to be heard while you’re sitting at the room.” Tune in to hear what she has to say.

 

Transcript

Jackie Ferguson: Hi, and welcome to season four of the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast sponsored by The Diversity Movement. I’m your host, Jackie Ferguson equality advocate and certified diversity executive. On this show, we discuss how diversity, equity and inclusion benefit our workplaces, schools, and communities by sharing the stories, insights, and best practices of game changers, leaders, and glass ceiling breakers that are doing the work to make our world a more understanding, welcoming and supportive place for us all.

I have the privilege of welcoming, Major Derri Stormer, to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast. She is the founder and president of Stormer and Associates Consulting Firm, and also serves as major with the Wake Forest University Police Department in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; where she is responsible for leading the support service division, which includes accreditation, victim services, community policing, special events, and security services.

Major Stormer was also awarded the 40 Under 40 Leadership Award from the International Chiefs of Police Association. Major Stormer, we’re so excited to have you with us today. 

Major Derri Stormer: Thank you for having me. 

Jackie Ferguson: Of course. Can you tell us a bit about your background and what inspired you to get involved with law enforcement?

Major Derri Stormer: Well, I actually grew up in North Carolina in Merry Hill. Most people don’t know where that is. It is in Bertie County, not to be confused with “birdie.” It is “Bertie.” Grew up there in the country. It’s one of the biggest counties in North Carolina, but not a whole lot there. We do not even have a Walmart. But, really enjoyed that life. As I got older, I realized how much I miss the country-living a little bit. 

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. 

Major Derri Stormer: But my parents have been together and married for 50 years now. So, I grew up in a very happy home. My mother was a teacher’s aide for over 30 years. My dad worked at the Perdue chicken plant for years until he retired. And I have a younger brother, some extended siblings as well, but I don’t know.

I, you know, a lot of times people get asked that question and they come with the “You just want to help people.” And it’s kind of that generic thing, but really, and truly for me, that is the honest truth. Like, I literally, one day was just like, “I want to do this.” And it was started like as early as third, fourth grade where I was like, “I want to be an FBI agent.” it became– I think I said that all the way up to high school.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. 

Major Derri Stormer: And then, out of the blue switch with the college, of course, and then came back to it. And just literally when I graduated, like, “Okay, I’m going to the police academy.” Don’t know what happened. Just, I saw this stuff, I’m like, “I’m going.” End up going as soon as I graduated from UNCW and came back to– I left Wilmington and came back to Greenville and ended up going to the academy and I’ve been in it ever since.

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. That is a great story. For those of us who don’t understand the hierarchy of law enforcement, what is “Major” and how do you achieve that rank? 

Major Derri Stormer: The one thing about police departments a lot of people may not realize is they were very much mirrored after the military. So, with the structure and the command and all of that. So, with most departments, you may have a Police Officer, which is your starting of the line. You may have a Corporal, you could have an Officer First Class, you could have a Master Officer; depends on what their ranking structure is. 

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. 

Major Derri Stormer: So then you would go to Sergeant, and then after Sergeant, you’d have Lieutenant. Lieutenant, then you’d have Captain, then you’d have Major, or you could have Major Assistant Chief, sometimes in departments those are the same position, sometimes they have both. And then there’s Chief. So I’m right under the chief. 

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. And Major Stormer, tell us, like, how was that process? How did you go through from rank to rank and move up to Major? 

Major Derri Stormer: It was not an easy process. I would tell anyone to not be discouraged during my tenure in this. I believe that it was not necessarily my skill that kept me from getting promoted, but you have to keep going. So, instead of letting that discourage me, I used it as motivation. I think I went in 13 processes before I was promoted to Sergeant. 

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. 

Major Derri Stormer: Was I not the most qualified person? Maybe, but it’s one of those things of you just can’t let that make you upset and then be like, “Okay, I’m not going to do it anymore.” I was motivated. I knew early on when I first got in the academy, I knew that I wanted to be in higher administration. I wanted to be a part of the people making the decision. I would always see the officers, “Oh, why are we doing this? Why do we have to do that?” Well, if you only stay at this level, all you’re going to have is your complaints.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. 

Major Derri Stormer: If you work your way up, that way you could have influence and change some of the things that you’re actually complaining about. So, I knew that I wanted to get up and have influence and change and transition some things. So I’m all about trying to implement change. You see “View the Changes” on my wall. I am constantly trying to figure out ways to make things better. 

Jackie Ferguson: I love that. And that’s so important no matter what industry you’re in, right? To be a part of where change is made, where the decisions happen, that’s so important. And Major Stormer, on that note, being a black woman officer is tough. Even though around the country, more black women chiefs are being elected, including one just named in Raleigh, Estella Patterson, who’s replacing retiring Chief, Cassandra Deck-Brown, who was also a black woman. What are some of the challenges of being a black woman officer?

Major Derri Stormer: To be heard. And I was very happy to hear about the news of Estella getting that job. I met her several years ago and she was very good people. It’s one thing to be in a room, but it’s also another to be heard while you’re sitting in the room. But two, it’s one thing to be at the table. Let’s say you’re having dinner, but it’s another thing to be served a plate. So it’s like, you’ve got to make sure and break the barriers of stereotypes. 

Because I can disagree with something and I can have an attitude, or I’m “intimidating” or “aggressive.” All these terms, which are nothing but microaggressions. And it took me a while to figure that out because you can let that stuff get you down because you’re always trying to change yourself to appease others. 

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. 

Major Derri Stormer: So, just understanding and being true to yourself and knowing what you’re doing is right. If you can stand on that, it doesn’t matter. You go forward and you keep doing it. Because there have been many times where I felt like I literally was a robot because you’re always, “Okay, how does my face look? Am I doing this? Am I doing that?” And you just have to constantly do that. I don’t think everybody realizes what it’s like to constantly feel like you’re constricted on everything that you do. While others can go and they can have a bad day, but as a female, I can’t show emotion like that.

If I were to start crying over something, what is that going to be perceived as? Even though it’s a genuine emotion and I want you to know, I feel things. If a woman does it, it’s completely different. And if a black woman does it, it’s completely different. So it’s all these different things when you carry marginalized characteristics.

So, being black and being a female, it has been a struggle. You have imposter syndrome that you may fight through, especially when you’re at that higher level and working with folks. Because I mean, you may be the only person in the room. There’s bigger departments, of course. That may not be the case, but in many places you are it. And a lot of times when people feel you’re brought in, there’s already preconceived notions of why you’re there. 

Jackie Ferguson: Sure. Yeah. That makes sense. Very often, it’s like, “Oh, you’re the diversity hire.” Right? And you get that kind of feedback, rather than being there because you’re qualified, because you were the best choice. Yeah. I totally understand that. 

And tell us what advice you would give a couple of things for someone who is the “only” in the room. You’ve been able to, to climb the ranks, you know, give us some advice for these folks who are the “only” in the room. 

Major Derri Stormer: Even when you are the “only” one in the room, you can, and will find support. While people may have their various opinions, there are those that are, you know, genuinely understanding and will give you a chance. Seek those folks out. And then after you get that support, still seek out the ones who don’t believe in you either. Because you want to show them that regardless of you not liking me for whatever reason, I’m still here. And I’m going to do the best job that I can, but I’m going to need your assistance.

And it’s either you’re going to be part of the solution, or are you going to be part of the problem? So you also want people to let them know too you’re not going to ignore something either. Because a lot of times they feel they can intimidate in other ways. Because a lot of people are going to have to understand there are informal leaders everywhere. You don’t have to have rank to have influence. 

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. 

Major Derri Stormer: And to be doing things in your department. So you have to make sure you have that hold and understand and have some resources definitely outside of your department. So you can have that minute where you can go and be like, “Okay, I need to breathe for a minute.”

Or “I can’t believe this just happened. I need to have this second.” I literally have spots on campus that I know I can go to this person’s office and be like, “Okay, I can’t believe this just happened.” And they give me that safe space to do that. And I know that’s where it ends. And that I can go back out and nobody has to know anything.

And you go back and about your day. And no one has to know that, okay, that bothered you or you were upset, or you just need to breathe for a second. So I’m all about trying to find those allies that you can– through your organization and outside of it. Because one of the things you have to be careful too, is also personal relationships, because people then feel that they can take advantage or, “Oh, I thought we were friends.” And I’m very much that person that can turn it on and off. I separate business from personal.

So, just making sure you’re able to do that. Just support yourself. So, well-being has become a big thing for me this past year, especially with COVID. Really taking the time to take care of yourself. So if you need a minute or you need a walk or you actually need to take a day off, which was something that I was really bad about.

Like, I would take a day off because I knew I had a doctor’s appointment.  Not just because I might need a mental health day to just stop, pause, and re-energize. So, just understanding that you need to have that stuff for yourself because it’s not going anywhere. You can put it down for the day, starting to cut things off when you can, because that’s something I really had to learn, and I really got better at it as COVID came. Because people really can reach out to you because now it’s okay.

Things are remote, things are shifting, now your access is going beyond boundaries that I didn’t even allow prior. So it’s understanding, “Okay. It’s okay to tell somebody this can wait tomorrow.” I preset emails sometimes. Because you know, just because something’s on my mind, doesn’t mean I need to go to my subordinate to get on this right now.

So I’ve actually scheduled to send emails out so it kind of hits them when I know they’re in the office, instead of bothering them when they’re not in the office. And hopefully, getting other people to understand that too. Because somebody once told me, “You train people how to treat you.” So you have to be mindful of that of when you’re always giving yourself access. Then people actually will do that.

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. 

Major Derri Stormer: And it’s kind of like, you kind of opened the door for it. So kind of let people know what your boundaries are. And even though you are at that high level, it is okay to say, “Okay, this has to wait.” 

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. You know, I think there is a, more of a spotlight on mental wellness and health right now, which is great because you’re right. Like, we’re bombarded with just digital information all day. And it’s important to be able to set those boundaries for yourself, to make sure that you have time for everything that matters in your life. And to just take a break and relax and separate yourself from the work, from the craziness. That’s so important. So thank you for saying that.

Major Derri Stormer: I remember years back in my career, one of my on-call phones that I had, I literally could feel my blood pressure go off when I got an email ding. And it’s just recognizing those kinds of things. Okay. What’s going on? So now, like for example, yes, I receive all my emails straight to my phone. I have to. But I don’t have to have an announcement sound to it. So just turning that off calms me because then I make the initiative to go into my phone, look into the emails, and look at them. Rather than hear that alert to be like, “Oh, is something wrong? What’s going on? Who’s emailing me?” And it is literally just something as small as that.

Jackie Ferguson: Right. I think that’s so great because, yeah, those notifications can sometimes be the worst thing because it, it makes you react immediately rather than setting your own schedule. So that’s, that’s so important. Thank you for sharing that. Major Stormer, what is your “Need to Know” wall?

Major Derri Stormer:  So, the backstory with the “Need to Know” wall is I had a worker one day came in my office, and he’s old school. He’s been in the career years, retired for a long time, and we work well together. And we were sitting there and he’d kind of sit back and he looked at my wall and he was like, “Hey, you got a “Me” wall. I was like, “What? What do you mean?” I was like, “No, sir.” I said, “That’s a ‘Need to Know’ wall.” He’s like, “What are you talking about?”

I said, “Well, sometimes I need to let people know that I didn’t just get in this chair.” In the beginning of my career, I actually hid my accomplishments. It just seemed to be one of those things where people– it was almost negative where it’s kind of like, “You think you know it all.” Or “Who cares if you got this, do you need that to do this?” And I’m like, it’s not about that. I made the initiative to go and do these things. I should be proud of them. So as my rank started going up, I started realizing that I need to show it off. Not in a sense of, “Look at what I have.” It’s more of, I am saying a lot without saying a word.

So when you come in and you have any kind of thought process of, “Well, how did she get here? She’s only this age.” And “Where’d she come from?” And you take a glance. “Oh, okay. I didn’t know you had this. I didn’t know you were featured here. I didn’t know you won this award. I didn’t know you had two master’s degrees. I didn’t know you had this.” It opens that door for one, you just see and know. And then also if you have questions, you can. I can tell you how it happened. I can explain to you, it wasn’t an easy thing. Because if I base my career on how I did undergrad. No. But it was something about once I grew up and that maturity level hit and I started going– I just became a lifelong learner.

I wanted to know, and I wanted to learn in different areas and arenas. So some of my “Me” wall is behind me right here. So I have my stuff hanging up. And again, I’m a big quote person. Like if you were to come by my office, I have quotes in the front of my door. I have, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” on my wall. Because that is one of the things, whenever somebody is debating on why is this going on? Or why is this going on? You can be the change. You don’t have to wait for someone else to do it. 

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. That’s right. I love that. And you know, one of the things to think about is some people, right, are judged on their potential, where others are judged on their accomplishments. 

Major Derri Stormer: Yes. 

Jackie Ferguson: And black women, in general, are judged on their accomplishments. So I love that. And Major Stormer, or I just want to take a pause here because I want to say to our audience, you know, I heard Major Stormer talk about this in a speaking engagement earlier this year. And it moved me so much because so many of us believe or have believed that we did not deserve a seat at the table where the decisions are being made.

And because of the bias of other people and the narratives that are communicated about us in the media, in our workplaces, in our communities. You know, I want to speak for just a moment to every single person listening that feels unsure of themselves right now. You know, even though they’ve done the work, they know their stuff, I want you to step into your power. You are capable, qualified, you are enough. 

And, you know, channel your Major Stormer inside and take your place. Somebody else needs to see you step up and step forward. So, Major Stormer, thank you for sharing that. I love your “Need to Know” wall. And I just wanted to take a moment to share that because it’s so important, especially for those of us, you know, who are often marginalized in the workplace. It’s important for us to step into our power. So thank you for sharing that. 

And I will say it is definitely discouraging. So I can completely understand and relate because sometimes you’re applying for jobs, and you really think you have a chance, and it has nothing to do with your accomplishment because the position’s already filled.

It just has to go through the, the process. A lot of times, positions, the person’s already picked. I mean, it happens in all arenas. So it’s one of those things. You just can’t let that discourage you. When I got my first masters, how that happened was because I was not allowed to go to training at the time. So I was like, I can’t sit here and allow this time to waste. 

Yeah. 

Major Derri Stormer: So I was like let me redirect; started taking classes. I was at a state institution, so it helped pay for it. So I was like, let me, let me go over here and do this. So it’s like every time I got served some lemons, I tried to make lemonade as much as I could. 

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. 

Major Derri Stormer: Because that’s what you have to do. You have to be your best cheerleader. 

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. You have to advocate for yourself because very often, and especially when you’re the only, or one of a few, you’re not going to have enough people advocating for you. So you have to know how to advocate for yourself. I love that. 

Major Derri Stormer: And I will say, Jackie, one thing that I’ve learned through my career, is, you got to find you some coaches and some sponsors. At first, I didn’t really know what that meant, but as I started getting hired, you have to, when you say sponsor, that’s that person that you may not know them that well, but they know enough of you that they can say your name in other arenas. 

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. That’s right.

Major Derri Stormer: So, they are able to speak for you and say how well you work and different things like that and get your name out there. And then that coach, of course, is that one who’s helping fix some things, or maybe showing you some things you may need to work on. As well as where your strengths are so you can pull from that. Because I really didn’t get that in the beginning, but then you start learning, okay it can’t– while it has to be your own cheerleader, you also have to have those that are willing to go into spaces you can’t reach. 

Jackie Ferguson: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. We all know that officers put their lives on the line every day, but can you tell us about a time when you thought, Major Stormer, that you might not come home. 

Major Derri Stormer: I would say it would have to have been, it was years ago, working downtown, Halloween event. And somebody came out shooting. The problem was we had no idea where the shots were coming from. And in addition to that, you have crowds of people that are running towards you. 

Jackie Ferguson: Right. 

Major Derri Stormer: So you’re trying to figure out where shots are coming from in addition to not trying to get trampled and things of that nature. Also just keeping in mind too, that my husband, at the time, we both worked the same department.

So, I’m thinking about myself, I’m thinking about him. Thankfully, everything worked out. Thankfully, also I have not had a lot of those situations. It’s been more of concern, but thankfully, a lot of the things I’ve been involved in were rectified to a point where I didn’t have to think that. But I have had it where it has happened to others that I personally know, and I’m always concerned, “Okay. What if that were me?” Because you’re always worrying about those things, especially after you start a family and different things like that. Because that’s another thing that changes you with your career. Your mindset when you first get started is one way, but as time goes on and then there’s children and your family grows, your mindset really changes.

And I think that’s what helps or changes what a lot of officers through the years– that’s why you see the guys that are a little bit, the females, males, they/them, officers, what changes once they’re further in the career is that mindset of calming down, being steel, not having to rush to do everything.

When we first start out, we’re so excited. We’re ready to go. And then once that career and that maturity hits in, that’s why you see a lot more of the officers that have had years in do the more talking. 

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. 

Major Derri Stormer: In relating to the situation rather than acting very quickly. 

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. Major Stormer, tell us about your consulting firm, Stormer and Associates.

Major Derri Stormer: So again, that was bred from some lemons. Had a situation and really had to rethink some things. And I had to remember as I have another quote on my wall, “Your value does not decrease based on someone else’s inability to see your worth.” And I had sat around for years, had wanted to do it for years.

I’d always wanted to do that. And what I started realizing is everyone was asking my opinion and input and thoughts, yet they were paying others. Wait a minute. I’m looking at this wrong. Let me look at this again and be like, I think what I have to say matters. I think that I have really good input, so many people are asking for this info and I’m like, why am I not, you know, making this come to pass? So I sat back. I was like, no, we can’t, we can’t keep doing this. Finally, did all the paperwork, got it going, working with a couple of different clients now. And just really, again, pulls to my purpose. And I feel my passion, like I really care about where law enforcement is going. I care about how the growth of it can change, how we can do things better, what things I think influence different departments when you have culture situations or issues within your department.

And I think I have some valuable things to say with that. So that’s how it got started. I think it’s going off pretty well. I think we’re going to probably be in business for a little while as things are really shifting with law enforcement, but it definitely was, again, something where you kind of put it on shelf, “Should I do this? Could I do it?” And then you kind of– like, “You know what? I’m worth it. So, let me go ahead and go and get this going.” 

Jackie Ferguson: That’s fantastic. And then what kind of clients do you deal with? Are you dealing mostly with companies? Or is it people in law enforcement? 

Major Derri Stormer: People in law enforcement, that is more where my focus is. But I have worked with people that are not in law enforcement. My goal is to be more specialized in that area because I try to partner with others. Just kind of going as a team, or we talk to different departments, because again, many will see me as a law enforcement person–

Jackie Ferguson: Sure. 

Major Derri Stormer: And think I can’t separate talking with the higher ed, which I can cause I’ve been in higher ed over 20 years. But it’s one of those situations of being able to have people see you in different lights and know what your background is to know that you can speak to them about different topics and be able to see in between if what helps on the law enforcement side is what I’ve seen with a lot of training and consultants; people that have been brought in at different arenas and trainings I’ve set in before, is the background’s not there.

So, you’re telling me and regurgitating things you either read, or found, or someone’s told you, rather than actually have the personal experience to say, “Okay, I know exactly what this is.” Or, “This has actually happened to me.” And, and unfortunately, and a good thing at the same time, I’ve had a lot of things happen in my 20-year career.

That a lot of times, I can actually just bring from my own personal experience rather than trying to regurgitate someone else’s story. 

Jackie Ferguson: Right. 

Major Derri Stormer: So that helps me be able to look through things a little bit different through lenses when, you know, I can see the difference of what you’re trying to tell me and be like, “Okay, I know what you’re hiding here.”

Or you’re hiding numbers in this. Or you might have, this person has too many positions or conflicts of interests. I mean, you can see through some things when doing that. So, I think that’s one positive with dealing with my company. Another thing I think I bring is being authentic.

I think a lot of times, we are so caught up in what we’re supposed to say, not say, and sometimes you just got to be blatantly honest. 

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. 

Major Derri Stormer: Sometimes, I’m honest to a fault on some things, but I try to be very, very honest with people on what I’m saying or what things can be interpreted as. Because that’s another thing I think people miss. You can have all the great intentions in the world, but if it’s being perceived a different way, it really doesn’t matter.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. 

Major Derri Stormer: Somebody is going to be like, “This is all-out racist.” Or your great intentions was about this written article that happened with, I think it was IKEA; the Juneteenth menu, and no one, no one thought to say that fried chicken and watermelon and collard greens may come off a little offensive. 

Jackie Ferguson: Oh no. 

Major Derri Stormer: I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happening, but I think there’s– and that just kind of lets me know that there are people– can’t be around the table–

Jackie Ferguson:  Right. 

Major Derri Stormer: –For you to make these kinds of decisions. So just, just getting people to understand that if you have to look around, and when you’re making these decisions, you look around the room and who you’re talking about is not in the room, you’re missing the boat. 

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And Major Stormer, you know, I talk about that all the time with inclusive marketing. You’ve got to understand that your messages need to resonate with more than just one demographic. You’ve got to be able to message all kinds of people. Because our society, and I know I say this on 75% of the podcast, but our society is becoming more diverse.

Major Derri Stormer: Yes. 

Jackie Ferguson: It, you cannot get around inclusive messaging, inclusive marketing, and inclusive communication. You’ve got to make it part of your business, no matter what business. And you know, the IKEA example is, is just a one of so many where they think they’re doing something right. Their intention is right, but what comes off is, is something that’s offensive, upsetting, you know, and you’ve got to have the right people in the room to be able to be honest with you and say, “Yeah, that’s, that’s not the right approach.”

Major Derri Stormer: And on the point you just said, that’s another thing. You have to surround yourself, even if you just have one person, that will tell you the truth. 

Jackie Ferguson: Yes. 

Major Derri Stormer: Because a lot– I’ve seen it many times, where people are surrounded by “Yes” people. And they’re constantly boosting you up and I’m like, “You do know that’s a horrible idea, right? Now, of course it got me labeled as being negative. But I’m like, my goal is to make sure I don’t get sued, you don’t get sued, and we don’t make a horrible mistake that we can prevent. So, if I know that I think this is a horrible idea, I’m going to tell you. No matter what the rank is, no matter who the person is, it’s like, even if I have to wait to after the meeting, pull you to the side, I want to be the person that says, “Hey, look, I don’t know about that. I think that’s going to be perceived a little off. We might want to rethink it.”

 So, definitely when you get to this level or higher, you definitely got to have that person in your, in your circle, in your group, in your command staff, that is going to tell you the truth. And you also have to be able to hear it too. Make the space to be able to be calm and hear– something you might just say you had a great idea and you’re super excited and you want it to go through and then the person comes back and says, “Hey, they’re going to hate this.” It can’t be this knee-jerk reaction and be like, “Well, I don’t care. I’m going to do this anyway.” No, you’ve got to hear, “Okay. Well tell me more. Tell me why. Help me understand and then maybe I can rethink it.” 

Now, of course, you also will have people just tell you it’s a bad idea just because they don’t like it. 

Jackie Ferguson: Right. 

Major Derri Stormer: I need some solution to the complaint. So, definitely being able to give space to hear criticism that, again, was a learning experience over the years. You know, at first, you’re just like, “What are you talking about? Why are you–” I mean, I know I do that. I don’t need you tell me all this kind of stuff. You have to be able to hear that feedback, whether it’s negative or positive, because even if you didn’t do it, if someone perceived it that way, you can’t discredit their feelings.

All you can do is figure out ways to one, you can rectify it, or a better way to communicate it in the future for the next time it may occur. 

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. That’s right. You know, I love that you said, “Help me understand.” We all need to use that phrase more. You know, we all see through our own lens of experience, right?

But there are so many other identities, so many other lived experiences that we’ve got to be able to communicate with, lead, and, you know, interact with. And it’s so important. “Help me understand” is such a powerful phrase. Love that. Major Stormer, you know, it’s long been whispered that police officers don’t report when other officers, a much smaller segment mind you, are not upholding their sworn duty to protect and serve. Why is this blue wall so pervasive and how do we get more officers to blow the whistle on wrongdoing?

Major Derri Stormer: I will say, I don’t know if it’s necessarily limited just to police, but I will say it’s fear, retaliation, and being blackballed, is what I would say. Because you have to think about situations, if you’re a brand-new officer, just started, this is your dream career, you’re working with these seniored officers who’ve been on the job 20 years and you see them doing something wrong, are you really going to step in and say, “Hey, I don’t think this is right.” The hope is you would, but you, you have to be understanding to the fact that police are still humans.

We have those same emotions, we are held to a higher standard, but we are still human beings who have those fears and concerns of what will happen next. I also think there’s a big part of it has to do with feeling like they’re helping. And when I say that, I mean, for example, you have an officer that’s been doing the job for 20 years. He makes this mistake. Am I– this is again, just self-thinking, “Am I going to be the one to ruin his career?” It’s not you. You reporting it is actually helping the officer. But a lot of times, I don’t think it’s seen that way. It seems like you’re telling on them or you’re getting them in trouble. These are statements I’ve heard prior, and I have to convince people and make them understand is getting the help that is needed is helping.

I know it’s not being seen that way right away, because I, I can definitely understand. And again, speak from experience on when you speak out and get something, others see that. So when it goes into a negative direction of, let’s say being kind of ostracized and not being seen in the same light. So, now you might’ve been a real respected officer. Now, you pretty much are being avoided like the plague. Or they see you now not getting promoted, being overlooked over things. I’m pretty sure that’s going to show as other officers, “Well, I don’t want that to be me.” 

Jackie Ferguson: Right.

Major Derri Stormer: Or “Well, I didn’t get involved, so it’s not the same.” Or “I see something going on and let me turn away from it.”

That does not absolve you from it, but I think that’s how it can be seen sometimes. So I think a lot of times there is a little fear with it. People may not admit it, but I, I would say that I think is a little bit of fear of what is going to happen. What am I supposed to do? I mean, you can even look at George Floyd situation.

You have three additional officers there. At no point did anybody else step in. Now, one of the officers did make a comment, but he didn’t take it to the level of removing him, pushing him, or anything of that nature. Because again, it’s kind of how the structure is made where the senior officer is in charge. So here you have officers who have not been on the job as long are leaning toward their senior person to kind of say, “Okay, what are we supposed to be doing? You’re telling me what’s right. I’m just going to stand here”. And at some point, we have to remember as law enforcement that we are to protect and serve.

And one of the things we need to do is make sure we’re ready to assist and give aid. So, I think where it gets lost is officers, as well as others, we’re worried of what it will look like and what will happen next. Because I just don’t think it’s an easy decision. I know people think that “Okay, well, you should just do it.” Well, you’re not the person that’s going to have to deal with the outcome later when they return.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah.  That’s a struggle because, you know, even if you think, you know, from, from my perspective, being in business and calling people out who are, you know, just being biased, which is something that I deal with and do in my work, there’s fear associated with that. There’s uncertainty associated with that, you know, there’s feeling uncomfortable associated with that that makes it hard.

So, whereas it’s important across all industries to be able to call out wrongdoing, call out bias, call out prejudice and racism when you see it and do something about it. It’s not incumbent just on one group, it’s incumbent upon all of us to do. So, thank you for sharing that.

An important part of your role is recruiting for the Deacon Student Patrol, but with the sentiment around law enforcement, how do we work towards more trust and recruit more culturally diverse officers, Major Stormer? 

Major Derri Stormer: It’s got to start earlier. We’ve got to take it all the way back to, like, elementary school to get the interest. With so many things that are happening and how we’re kind of being viewed in the news and different things of that nature, it’s leaving an imprint.

And you also have to keep in mind there’s parents who are talking about it. You know, kids are sitting there listening. We have to have a way to change the narrative. So, it has to start early. So, getting in there and really getting those kids interested and seeing it as an actual career that they could look forward to doing in the future.

I think what’s happening more now is, “I’m not going to work for them,” or “I would never be a part of that group.” And I just don’t think you can make the changes that you need if you’re going to separate yourself from it. So, if we take the mindset of, “We don’t want anything to do with the police” and speaking of people of color, then you will essentially create exactly what you said you don’t want. Because if we all stay away and we don’t try to, you know, be a part of that team and show them, okay, we we’ve got different folks, we’ve got to be able to communicate with all these different communities that are coming.

We’re going to be so interconnected now that I’m like, I don’t think there’s going to be– I can’t wait for the day that we eliminate boxes of like African American, black, I mean, I think we’re very past that. We are so intercultural now. And you need that representation. I think that is the biggest thing that you have to have to recruit.

Representation matters. You cannot come to me and sell me how great it is to come to your place of business, and I walk in and no one in the business looks like me. 

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. 

Major Derri Stormer: So, I’m like, that is where a lot of people are missing the boat. And I think a lot of times people have to be honest about why did it take it becoming a national story to now, “Let’s do something.” That is, again, a very reactive approach. We have got to get back to doing and being proactive about our decision-making and why we’re doing the things that we’re doing. And again, representation. 

I’ll never forget going to a conference and the speaker was talking about nothing but diversity. Diversity, diversity, diversity. Of course, diversity always gets just lumped with race.  And my husband, we were both sitting there and we’re at a law enforcement conference and he brings up the department.

There was not one person of color in the whole entire department. So I’m like, how are you speaking and telling us all these great things, but again, we’re, we’re smart humans. We’re going to go back and look, and these are the things people are doing. Especially with the new generation. They’re going to call you out.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. 

Major Derri Stormer: They’re going to check. They’re going to look; they’re going to double-check and they’re going to see. So when you’re saying, “Oh, I’ve always been this way.” Really? Well, your department has shown that you haven’t been concerned about it until recently. So, you’ve got to be prepared to take the hard question when it gets asked of you and why did it take you this long? Was it not a concern? Or was that your own bias? 

So just, just kind of taking the time to go out there and start young, trying to get people to understand that it is a viable career. Because one of the things like I used to tell the students, when it came to recruiting, back during my time, the only other option, if you didn’t go to school was– they always talk about the military.

I said, “At least with the military, I’m not going to send you to war. I’m not going to send you overseas. You can just, you know, work your own city and you’ll get some benefits. I mean, you won’t get paid a whole lot, but hey, it is always hiring.” That’s the biggest thing I always tell the students, I’m like, “It is one job that is always hiring.”

So, it’s one of those things of just giving people options. Because I think one of the things that’s getting missed is the different careers– everybody automatically thinks college. And there’s a misconception that you have to have a degree to become a law enforcement officer and you don’t. 

Jackie Ferguson: Okay. Yeah. That’s important to know. You know, I love so many of the, the things that you’re saying. And so many of the tips that you’re giving, and best practices apply across all industries.  So, as you’re thinking about, you know, representation, you’re thinking about, you know, people need to see it to be you, right? That applies to any industry.

So I, I think that’s so important for business leaders to recognize as they’re thinking about their, their diversity and inclusion strategies to make sure that they have representation. Love that. Why else do you think, Major Stormer, does recruiting a more culturally diverse officer pool, why does that matter? 

So we talked about, you know, the representation for being able to recruit, but let’s dig in a little more about, you know, some of the changes. So we’ve heard things like, you know, defunding the police and making all these major changes, but how does having a more culturally diverse set of officers, how does that change the way that we’ve got this systemic racism that’s pervasive throughout our country, not just in law enforcement, but in health care, in lending and you know, so many different aspects of, of our society? But when we have a more culturally diverse pool of officers, how does that benefit our society in general?

Major Derri Stormer: Because it changes the culture. When you are in spaces where there’s only one or now you’ve changed it where we have multiple representations in a department, you may have people that had preconceived notions about individuals of that particular group that changes perception that changes ideals with people.

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah. 

Major Derri Stormer: I think it opens the door for learning because now you’re being introduced to something that you would normally not have. Everybody does not necessarily practice what they preach all the time when it comes to professional versus personal. So, you may not interact with a person of color any other time besides when you’re at work.

So being able to interact, be around, learn about different cultures, seeing and changing those ideals that you may have that may have some bias attached to it, I think opens the door for again, change. For me, and seeing that happens, I think it just builds a better team. Like, if you have like-minded ideas and like-minded people, the same kind of cutout at the table, what’s changing? What are you learning different?

If we all have the same mindset, then we clearly can’t be building towards something different. I need to have a difference of opinion in the room, I need to have a different idea, I need to understand is my message getting across the board? Or am I only finding other robots like me? Not saying I wouldn’t love to have a hundred Derri’s, but I know that I need other people. And the more diverse group of people that I can have, the more beneficial is to me. Because every day I’m learning something that’s changed. The wording, the, I mean, even when I remember doing safe zone training, LGBTQ trainings, and different things, things, words that were once offensive are okay now. Some things aren’t. I mean, you’ve got to be able to communicate with all people.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. 

Major Derri Stormer: We can’t be limited in that communication. So when that happens, people have to understand and that’s across the board too, because again, diversity gets very lumped into race. I mean, you have to remember, like, abled versus differently abled, of course. I can relate to that with my daughter. My oldest has special needs. With this, when I’m doing certain things and having to go somewhere, understanding okay, we can’t get into this restaurant because it’s not ADA. Or going up on a curve, we’re not having proper parking. Or even when I do PowerPoints now, making sure I have some closed captioning because people might have hearing issues, or they may have to be able to read stuff. So I’m like, there’s little things that we forget because that’s not in, that’s something we don’t have to deal with.

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right. 

Major Derri Stormer: So, just because you don’t have to deal with it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to someone else. But just making sure that you can hit all these different spots, you could really understand and change the systems that we have set for ourselves. When you can open the doors and understand, because if you could get a message across and it actually hits everyone, you’re doing a dang good job.

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely. Major Stormer, among all the marches and protests and events over the past year or so, where are we still missing the mark in achieving fairness and equity within the criminal justice system? 

Major Derri Stormer: Legislation, law-changing, people who are in these positions. I think we get very emotionally hijacked. I had to learn that term back in the day because it used to happen to me a lot in situations. Where something happens, we get mad, we go out, we talk about it, we talk about it. But when it really, really can change something, we get silent again. And it’s not until we’re emotionally hijacked that we get mad.

Because if you look at things, things always die down When it’s time to actually go to the polls and do something. If we can keep that same energy when it’s time to vote some people out who sat in seats for years, that’s where you’re going to see change. Because see, that’s the real reason that a lot of things don’t change and stay stagnant for the years that they do. Because they might have to bend to some outings on the news and things of that nature for the moment and make a quick little change. But some real change comes when the law is different. So, if you’re still having the same Senators, and people have to keep in mind too, your state elections are just as important as your national elections.

So, you’ve really got to pay attention. Who’s your Governor, who’s your Lieutenant Governor, who’s your Supreme Court, who are the judges. So when people are saying, “Okay, I can’t believe this. And we want to make sure we change the justice system.” Judges are elected positions. 

Jackie Ferguson: That’s right.

Major Derri Stormer: They’re being voted into that seat unless they’re appointed. So my question is who did you vote for? And then when you hear people say, “Well, I didn’t.” Okay. Well, that’s part of the problem. Because that is what those folks who are running know. Hence why they do not cater to your needs. And they don’t have to. If they were to see a complete wipe-out, hence, which is what’s happening in the U S right now, while they’re changing all these voter laws, people of color voted. And they’re like, oh no, no, no, we’ve got to stop this.

And all these voter laws are being changed, but the whole thing is you didn’t vote out the people that are passing it. So these that are getting in the books. So we’ve got to take that energy. And again, I’m not, I’m not saying you can’t protest, I’m not against protesting. It is your right your right to do so. But what I’m saying is if you want to hit it where it hurts, you have got to get people removed.

When they see that they can’t sit and hold on to that power, I guarantee you, you will see people start paying attention to what you were asking for. Because when they realize that they can’t stay there anymore, their power is gone. 

Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Yeah, I totally agree. You know, protesting, marching, those all have an important place, but it can’t end there. We need to go to the polls with it. And voting in those local elections, those state elections, are so important. Not just you know, the national election. It’s so important to vote.

Major Derri Stormer:  It goes smaller too. I mean, this is, this is even your little county commissioner stuff. I mean, they can decide– in some counties, they decide what happens with the Sheriff and the budgets and things of that nature. So I’m like if there’s things that you have a concern about, the option is there. Before I moved here, I was going to run for city council. I have not done it here yet. Because I’m still trying to figure out where my placement is going to be.

But again, even if it’s getting on a board of education seat, like one of their seats. Learn about education because it’s a prime example of how everything flipped when COVID came. To have that input, because every, every house is not the same. Like my first degree is in adult ed. And the reason why I did that because seeing how things are different in rural areas.

So when we say, “Oh, we’re going to get computers and we’re going to do this, and you can just do it from home.” Okay. Well, every kid doesn’t have the internet. But those voices aren’t at the table on these committees. So even if it’s something as small as a committee within a city or county, get yourself involved.

That’s where the true change is going to happen at; the people who are elected. So as long as we sit back and not try to fill those seats and take those seats, this is going to be the same revolving door of the same.

Jackie Ferguson:  Major Stormer, why do you continue to work in this field? You know, it’s dangerous. It’s difficult. What keeps you motivated?

Major Derri Stormer: I know I’ve said it before and I know it seems like I’m being repetitive, but it’s to be the change. I will tell anyone that it has been quite difficult to stay in this career this long. I think people forget that, you know, again, I’m human too. I’m also black. I have to remind people I’m black first, law enforcement is my job. That really became prevalent when Black Lives Matter came up. And I mean, people, I had friends for years were saying some stuff I’m like, “Hey, did y’all forget? Like, that’s my job.”

I mean, you’re talking about me. You do know you’re talking about me too? Like, when you’re making these comments. So, I really had to explain to people that, you know, I am being affected as well as other officers of color. We’re having to, you know, try to navigate through this where you’re understanding what people are saying and protesting and sometimes you almost want to join them on some things. And then other times, you’re just like, you’re being hated, and you want to scream, “Hey, I’m one of the good guys!” But it doesn’t matter because everybody’s, everybody’s not going to see it that way. And I have to understand that. So, there are some people that I can change their mind, and there are other people that are not going to even give me a chance to. And it’s hard being hated.

And you, you don’t have a way to change that opinion, or you hate that you’re hated and there’s nothing you can do about it. So, it has been difficult. It’s one of those things of trying to, you know, power through, do what you can, try to make the influence, try to be the voice in the rooms when people don’t want to hear it. And say the things they may not want to hear. Because I think that’s what keeps me going and saying, “Okay, if I, if I walk away, then who’s there?”

Jackie Ferguson: Yeah.

Major Derri Stormer:  If you move away from that space, knowing how far you finally got. Now, people are hearing you a little bit more. What happens now if you walk away from that? Because I think right now with law enforcement, there’s a mass Exodus going on. A lot of folks get in early. I mean, I got into my twenties. I had just turned 21.

So you have officers now who would have stayed, but now they can go. So, it was kind of like, “This is too much. I’m retiring.” So that’s, what’s hurting our recruitment as well, too, because a lot of people who would have continued on, because technically if I was still, like, in the state system, I could’ve retired at 53.

But imagine that across the whole country, because other states like New York and different ones, they have a 20-year retirement. So imagine all those officers can, you know, could walk out tomorrow and different things like that. And I think that’s what cuts the thing. But I mean, you just have to figure out a way to stay motivated in the sense of understanding your “why.” and again, I think a lot of what I do has to do with my purpose. And that’s the reason why I think it’s easier for me to stick with it because I think I was called to do it. 

Jackie Ferguson: That’s amazing. Major Stormer, this is one of my favorite questions. And I love this question because I never know what I’m going to hear. Right? Tell us something about you that not a lot of people know. 

Major Derri Stormer: You know, you always want to try to have something good for this, but I think the only probably secret about me, of course, my husband knows. And you may– well no, I don’t think even he’s that close to me, I am a TV junkie. Like junkie in the sense of, if you watch Netflix or anything, you want to know any genre, I can let you know. Foreign, it doesn’t matter. I’m one of those people that can binge a series in a day and a half. 

Jackie Ferguson: Wow. 

Major Derri Stormer: Like if it’s good, I will, I will stay right in it. Like, literally not moving the bed. And my girls even say, well, “Mommy’s watching one of her shows.” So like, I, I have, I, that was my thing. I mean, we were, we were not necessarily in the money growing up. So, the TV was my thing, because that was the one thing I had.

So if like– I had cable. I was like, “Oh my God, I can watch all these different shows.” So it’s like, I mean, I can tell you every, almost every episode about Little House on the Prairie, which is odd. Like I even, I remember the finale. I know people don’t know that, but I remember the finale of that show and when they blew up the town. So I am–

Jackie Ferguson: I used to watch Little House on the Prairie growing up too. So I watched so many episodes. Oh my goodness. 

Major Derri Stormer: So, it’s my little secret thing where I can like–because what’s funny is when I post, when people are posting about different shows, what should I watch? I get so excited. Because I’m ready to just say, “Oh, you need to watch this” or “Have you seen this show?”

So I’m like, “I’ve already seen it.” And I feel bad when people just discover a show that I like watched five months ago. Because I, I just get excited. I just get into it. So different series is now, which just seems like more Netflix and stuff is moving to where they give you a series versus a movie. I am one of those. And I’m also, I think for free, I would love to be like a movie critic.

I would sit there and watch something like, “Oh no, this is horrible. Oh no, this is going to be a hit.” I am, I am about it. My husband gets something, he’ll come in, “Are you watching it again?” I’m like, “Yes, it’s a series”.

The TV jockey thing is my hidden pleasure where I will lock myself up for like a weekend and come out and be like, “Oh my God, I just watched–” because I actually asked Netflix to send me my list because somebody wanted to know what my favorite movies were. And I couldn’t remember the title. So I got them to send me the list and I think I had over 2000.

Jackie Ferguson: Oh my goodness. That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing that. Major Stormer, what’s the message that you want to leave our listeners with today?

Major Derri Stormer: Continue on. Don’t be discouraged. Even when you think it’s not working, keep going. It’s one of those situations where we may not see the pot of gold in the rainbow, but we do know a rainbow comes after the storm. So, I would definitely encourage people just to know there’s a reason that you’re here, know that you are worthy, and your value is not measured by someone else’s cost evaluation. So you continue doing what you are, try to figure out what that purpose of yours is, and don’t let anything limit you. If you feel you need to want to start something. I mean, there’s so many people now that have just sprung up and created businesses and startup things.

And I mean, just– even if it’s TikTok. I mean, I’ve seen people who have literally blown up over these things over this time period because they actually took the time then you’d be like, “Okay, let me figure this out. Let me see.” So it’s like, take this opportunity to figure out what that, what your purpose is, because everybody has a purpose on this life. I don’t care who you are. And if you can figure out what that is, you will change the world. Because then you will not only be helping others, you’ll actually be doing what you were called to do. And when you’re doing what you’re called to do, it’s not work. 

Jackie Ferguson: Great advice. Great advice. Major Stormer, how can people connect with you? 

Major Derri Stormer: Well, hopefully now– we’re still getting our website good to go, but I definitely have the email that they can contact me on. So you can either do contact@stormerandassociates.com or you can actually do my name and it’ll come to me directly; derri@stormerandassociates.com.

If you’re interested in any kind of consulting, trying to figure out what anything may be happening with your department, if there’s any kind of cultural issues, diversity inclusion, I’m definitely here to assist and consult with you to get things going. I’m definitely honest in that. So, just know that up front that I’m going to tell you the truth and be very frank about what we may see when we evaluate your– but if that is something you’re definitely interested in, please contact. I am open and available and can’t wait to hear from you. 

Jackie Ferguson: Wonderful. Thank you so much for your honesty, your vulnerability, and a hopefulness for a brighter tomorrow, because you don’t practice the first two without believing the third. So, more courage among all of us to do what’s right and stand up for what’s right is so important. So, Major Stormer, thank you so much for being on Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast. And I appreciate your time today. 

Major Derri Stormer: And thank you again for having me. Anytime.

Jackie Ferguson:  Of course.

Full Episode Transcript

If you’re interested in consulting from Major Stormer, contact her at contact@stormerandassociates.com.

Diversity Beyond the Checkbox is brought to you by The Diversity Movement, hosted by Head of Content Jackie Ferguson, and is a production of Earfluence.

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