When Major Karen Riggsbee ’88 was promoted to deputy chief of the Raleigh Police Department this summer, she became one of the top three leaders in an agency that employs more than 800 officers and 100 civilian staff. She joined fellow Deputy Chief Robert Council ’92 and Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown ’87. All three are graduates of the criminal justice program at East Carolina University.
“Knowing we have that common bond is really cool,” Riggsbee said. “I think it’s good for ECU – we were not picked because we went to ECU, but the fact that we all went there is a plus.”
“It’s absolutely cool,” Council added. “We’ve known about our connection to ECU, but to end up in leadership positions in the department is special. It shows the university gave us a good, positive foundation and that we’ve taken the education there and put it to work.”
Interestingly, Riggsbee, Council and Deck-Brown didn’t know each other while attending ECU, but their paths crossed throughout their careers with the police department. And each took different paths to their current positions.
Council was confident in pursuing a criminal justice degree. He wanted to do something that involved helping others and didn’t require being inside all day. An internship steered him to the Raleigh Police Department, where he has worked since attending the police academy in 1993. He became deputy chief in 2017.
Riggsbee and Deck-Brown were less sure at the start their criminal justice journeys.
“I was like a lot of students in that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I took a class in criminal justice and fell in love with it. One class led to another and it was truly the path I was meant to go down,” Riggsbee said. “The instructors and professors were not just academics but had been in the field and were really able to give us a sense of what it was like to work in criminal justice.”
After graduating, Riggsbee got her master’s degree at the University of South Carolina followed by a park ranger position with the Raleigh Police Department. She worked her way through the department and now oversees field and special operations as well as the detective division.
Deck-Brown came to ECU planning on becoming a nurse. That turned out to be a bad fit, so she pivoted to criminal justice, where “there was no doubt I had chosen the right major,” she said.
Deck-Brown was offered a position with the Raleigh Police Department shortly after graduating and has worked there for 31 years as a patrol officer, a crime prevention-community relations officer and a detective, among other duties. In 2013, she became the first African-American woman to head the department and the first chief chosen from within the department since 1994.
“It was probably one of the most humbling, surreal, greatest life-impacting experiences a person could have,” she said. “You don’t take it lightly. I accepted that charge with honor. There have been a number of times I’ve pinched myself.”
She is also on the advisory board for ECU’s criminal justice program and comes back to campus often.
Professor William Bloss, chair of the criminal justice department, said having three alumni at the top of the Raleigh police department is beyond impressive.
“I can’t take credit for it, but my predecessors did an excellent job of providing a high-quality undergraduate education that prepared them for graduate success,” said Bloss, who didn’t teach Riggsbee or Council but works with Deck-Brown on the advisory board.
Deck-Brown echoed the sentiment.
“I know what was invested in me, and being able to come back and give back in a way that hopefully helps the program is rewarding. When I look at Karen and Rob and myself, we each came to ECU by way of a different journey. How we chose ECU was different, but we were all enriched by ECU.”