RALEIGH — Police Chief Harry Patrick Dolan made what he described as his last “official public presentation” on Saturday. And it was fitting that it focused on getting neighborhoods involved in police efforts.
The legacy of the chief, who will retire on Oct. 1, is a community-policing initiative that led to a dramatic drop in violent crime in some of Raleigh’s most troubled neighborhoods.
Giving the keynote address Saturday at the second annual Raleigh Neighborhood Exchange at N.C. State’s McKimmon Center, Dolan emphasized what has become an oft-repeated mantra of his five-year tenure as the city’s top cop: The more children the city has graduating from high school, the safer its communities will be.
“The 19th-century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson used to ask, ‘So my friend, what has become clearer since the last time we met?’ ” Dolan told the group of nearly 100 city employees and community members. “And it occurred to me that as we get older, things become clearer. We desperately needed a new courthouse and the new (law enforcement) training center and the hoped-for police department. However, I don’t know of anything as important as the St. Monica Teen Center for our young people, because there is nothing more important than our future.”
The newly opened center is on Tarboro Road in Southeast Raleigh.
Tarboro Road is where the police department, with Dolan at the helm, implemented the community policing program in December 2008, less than a month after 16-year-old Adarius Fowler was killed in a drive-by shooting. Police and city officials began holding monthly meetings with residents to identify problems. The initiative was based, in part, on 20 recommendations from residents to improve public safety in the neighborhood.
Dolan on Saturday credited residents for helping transform and reopen the long-closed St. Monica School, which educated African-American children for more than three decades. It’s now a vibrant teen center with high ceilings, rich wooden floors and pastel-colored walls that houses a dance and art studio, computer lab, game room and lounge.
“If you have a kid hanging out on the corner causing problems – chances are they are acting ‘bad’ because they don’t want you to know they can’t construct a sentence,” Dolan said.
‘People make the city’
The Raleigh Neighborhood Exchange, sponsored by the city’s community services department, featured city, nonprofit and private agencies sharing ideas on topics that included youth employment, Internet and transportation access for people with disabilities, business opportunities, city services and the environment.
“This is a way for the community to come together and learn what the city does and what we can do to make the city better,” said Gwendolyn Waller, a city employee who emceed the day’s luncheon. “The city does not make the people. People make the city.”
Nina Barrett, an 18-year-old freshman majoring in pre-law at Peace College, did a presentation on digital technology.
“I talked about how technology can be applied in school and in our communities,” she said.
Others, like Samuel Mendez, a loan officer with the Latino Credit Union in Garner, came to learn about business opportunities.
“We want to help start businesses in the Latino community,” Mendez said. “We really want to get closer to the business markets in the city of Raleigh, but also in the state.”
Part of the infrastructure
For Karen Clark, a peer advocate with the Alliance of Disability Advocates, the exchange was an important venue to learn about city services. Now she intends to enroll in the city’s leadership academy and neighborhood college.
But Saturday also gave her a forum to speak out on behalf of the disabled, particularly for transportation access.
“If you don’t have transportation, you are essentially imprisoning people in their homes because they can’t get to community events, work or as volunteers,” Clark said.
Before his keynote address, Dolan said community policing will remain a part of the police department infrastructure.
As his last day as chief nears, an ice cream social will he held in his honor Monday at the Tarboro Road community center, where the seeds of his community policing legacy were first planted.
During his speech, Dolan called for more Boys & Girls Clubs, more after-school programs and for teen centers on Martin Street and Garner Road.
“The Tarboro Road model has to be expanded,” he said.