Community policing will be Dolan's legacy as Raleigh chief

Party set at center where he launched community initiative

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comAugust 15, 2012 

  • Interim chief Raleigh’s new acting police chief, Cassandra Deck-Brown, worked her way up through the department. Deck-Brown, the daughter-in-law of former Raleigh police chief Mitch Brown, grew up in Franklin County but spent summers with her mother’s relatives in Philadelphia, where she saw a female police officer on the street one day. The sight of a woman in uniform and in control inspired her, she said in 2006. Deck-Brown graduated from East Carolina University with a degree in criminal justice, then entered the police academy and the Raleigh Police Department in 1987. She worked as a patrol officer, a crime prevention-community relations officer and a detective, before earning a master’s degree in public administration from N.C. State University in 1995. Promoted to captain in 2003, she became commander of what is now the North District. She later headed the department’s Administrative Services Division and was promoted to deputy chief last summer. Deck-Brown helped coordinate Charm School, a summer program organized by the department to keep teen girls from tough neighborhoods out of trouble, one of Chief Harry Dolan’s community policing initiatives. At the program’s first graduation ceremony, she describe how the girls’ personalities had blossomed and how the lessons in etiquette and dress would last a lifetime. “This is the police department thinking outside the box,” she said.

— Harry Patrick Dolan will hold his retirement party at the Tarboro Road community center east of downtown, the place where, three years ago, he launched a community policing initiative that will be a big part of his legacy when he retires Oct. 1 as Raleigh’s police chief.

Dolan announced his retirement Wednesday, nearly five years after he came to Raleigh from Grand Rapids, Mich., on what would be the final stop in a 32-year career in law enforcement.

Deputy Chief of Police Cassandra Deck-Brown will serve as interim chief while the city conducts a search for Dolan’s permanent successor.

The year after Dolan became chief, gang activity and violent crime reached a peak in the city: the 32 homicides and 1,065 armed robberies in 2008 were both records.

Dolan emphasized that his officers would focus on three areas: guns, gangs and drugs. His signature efforts with the department was community policing, with officers partnering with organizations, agencies and churches throughout the city to provide more summer camps, educational outlets and athletic leagues that would help mold young people and keep them out of trouble.

Southeast Raleigh, from downtown to outside the Beltline, was a hotspot, typically accounting for a disproportionate number of homicides in the city each year.

“In 2007 and 2008 murder was off the charts in Southeast Raleigh,” said Octavia Rainey, a longtime Southeast Raleigh activist and chairperson of the North Central Citizens Advisory Council. “When he became the police chief, the number of murders among young black men was higher than in any other neighborhood in Raleigh. So you have to give him credit with reducing the number of murders of black men. Based on that alone, he made a big difference.”

Rainey said Dolan was willing to make himself available.

“He came in, he listened, he took our advice,” she said. “How many police chiefs can you pick up the phone and call and they accept your call, listen to your ideas and put together a plan of action?”

‘A gentle giant’

Dolan, 54, is a 6-foot, 8-inch New York-born, Irish-American cop who graduated from the police academy in Raleigh in 1982, but never fully shed his native accent. “He was definitely a gentle giant,” said city council member Thomas Crowder. “For someone of that size, he could be very intimidating. But that was not the case. He was very good with children and the public.”

Bob Shultz an eight-year resident of Rosemont in North Raleigh and semi-retired orthopedic surgeon, found himself at odds with Dolan and the city when the neighborhood sought permission to install a security gate at the entrance to its cul-de-sac. The city rejected the request, but Dolan met with neighbors and tried to help by boosting police presence in the area, Schultz recalled. “He was disarming in the sense that he looked everybody in the eye and tried to show us that he understood our situation,” Schultz said.“ ... He did come out personally and spend time with us. From that standpoint, I have great respect for him.”

When he was introduced as the city’s new chief five years ago, Dolan cited a 2003 Northeastern University study that concluded that keeping young people in school would help keep them out of prison, the underpinning to his community policing philosophy.

The police department began tracking and analyzing gang-related crimes in 2009 and by the end of the year, the number of homicides in the city had been cut by more than half and robberies dropped to 865. The downward trend continued, particularly with homicides in Southeast Raleigh. Of the 36 murders that have occurred citywide since 2010, only eight took place in Southeast Raleigh.

On Wednesday, Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane praised Dolan’s community policing initiative, for among other points, “increased engagement of young people in the community and opportunities for community outreach.”

City councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, who chairs the city’s Law and Public Safety Committee, said community policing will be Dolan’s “crowning achievement.”

“Dolan put substations in troubled neighborhoods and basically had a policy of getting cops out of their cars, getting to know people and patrolling in a way that’s interactive.”

But the department in recent months has been under a growing cloud of discontent among its officers and civilian employees. Last month, 200 officers and employees signed grievance letters opposing the department’s new evaluation system, known as Priority Performances Measures, that was implemented July 1.

The Teamsters union, which represents about 90 percent of the department’s 777 sworn officers, said the new system relies too heavily on the number of arrests and citations and amounts to a “thinly veiled” quota system. The letter also stated that there was an atmosphere in the department that discouraged employees from making constructive criticism of the leadership.

A tough fight within

Dolan said the union’s assertions were false. He said the department chose the new system to address skepticism of the old one, which rated 90 percent of its officers as “outstanding.” A new system, he noted, would show about 80 percent of the officers doing an acceptable job, with some needing work to improve. He predicted that a small number, about 5 percent, would eventually be encouraged to find work elsewhere.

“Both sides dug in,” Baldwin said of the skirmishes with the police union. “Now we need to dig out a little bit. Dolan was willing to talk,” she said. “This was an instance where he stood up for what he believed in. Sometimes you ruffle feathers when you do that. When you change something, you are going to have people who are not happy with you.”

Last year, the department announced that Internal Affairs was involved in an ongoing investigation of “voluntary interaction between a small number of officers and non-departmental personnel.” The issue boiled over into a sex scandal that came to a head when a veteran police sergeant, Rick Armstrong, announced he was one of four officers under an internal investigation following allegations that some officers had sex with a woman described as a prostitute in the Southeast Raleigh.

Armstrong, who had served as president of the local police union, said he was cleared of having sex with a prostitute, but that the department fired him after an 18-month investigation that centered on his relationship with a woman he described as a family friend. Armstrong filed a lawsuit in late October against Dolan, the police department and the city, claiming he was unfairly targeted in the investigation. The case has not been settled.

Upon hearing about Dolan’s retirement Wednesday, Armstrong said despite their disagreements, union members wish him well in his retirement. “I can only hope that the next chief will be willing to sit down and discuss the issues with the union,” Armstrong said.

Dolan began his career as a Buncombe County deputy sheriff in 1980, before working as a Raleigh police officer for five years. He was a police chief in Lumberton and Black Mountain and had been chief in Grand Rapids for nine years when he returned to Raleigh following the resignation of his predecessor Jane Perlov, who became chief of security with Bank of America.

Staff Writer Matt Garfield contributed to this report.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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