Ask Anything: 10 questions with Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan
Posted July 9, 2008
Why should someone consider becoming a police officer? And what are you doing to get the BEST officers on the street? – James Sites, Cary
This month, I begin my 29th year in the law enforcement profession. I can report with confidence that it is one of the most rewarding jobs a person could select as a career. A friend once told me that when he informed his uncle, a judge in Indiana, that he was becoming a police officer, the judge replied, “If you do that job right, there is nothing more noble that you can do with your life.” Those are great words all officers should reflect upon throughout their career.
Today, the law enforcement profession offers career advancement opportunities, salaries, equipment and training far beyond what we considered possible when I was a young officer. Once hired, inexperienced police recruits will have the privilege of attending one of the finest police academies in the country, while being paid a starting salary of over $35,000. Not many professions provide you with all of your equipment and supplies, pay you a salary to attend class and guide you through your professional licensing process.
Experienced officers are now eligible to join the department at a pay grade more commensurate with their current education, training and experience. For example, a lateral-entry officer with 12 years of experience may start at over $52,000 annual pay.
Regarding your question about hiring the best, I can report that the RPD (Raleigh Police Department) has developed rigorous hiring standards and has proudly maintained a tradition of excellence for many decades.
Why do some officers continue to drive over the speed limit when they are clearly not going anywhere special and simply wasting gas and, consequently, the taxpayers’ money? – Elizabeth, Raleigh
I agree that there are occasions when some officers travel over the posted speed limit without an apparent justified reason. It has been both my personal and professional experience that this occurs, for the most part, when the officer is diligently trying to respond to a citizen’s call for service. The call may not necessarily require an emergency response; however, the officer finds him/herself responding in a hurried manner to calls backing up at peak call times.
The city council just approved a 5 percent increase in starting salary for police officers and a raise upon completion of the academy. However, there is no indication that the men and women who are currently officers are going to be getting any sort of increase in pay. According to reports, the police department has been losing officers at a steady rate. What incentive do officers already on the job have to remain with the department if the newly hired officers are receiving a raise and they are not? Why create 12 new positions in the police department if you are having trouble keeping the positions that you currently have occupied? – Fran Venckus, Garner
We are witnessing a generational shift away from many of the traditional helping professions, such as law enforcement, nursing, teaching and the clergy. The good news is that although the numbers of individuals interested in law enforcement have diminished, we are still hiring extraordinarily well-qualified recruits uniquely suited for the job. We are now asking our recruitment staff to view their role as a talent scout as well as recruiter.
In addition to developing innovative recruitment strategies and implementing a lateral entry program for hiring experienced officers, we have placed immediate focus on providing pay incentives within the years of service range we have experienced the greatest turnover. The turnover rate you reference, which has decreased of late, is primarily experienced in the first five years of employment.
Please note that our recent action lowering the number of years of service required to advance to first class officer, master officer and senior officer will provide a salary increase for both officers in the first five years of employment and for many officers who have past the five year mark.
Formerly, an officer had to work 12 years to be eligible to receive senior officer pay and status. Today, that same officer is eligible after six years. In addition, the city council and city manager have demonstrated a continuing commitment to the merit salary and range adjustment programs that help maintain pay competitiveness. Veteran officers rarely leave the department mid-career, and we attribute our competitive top pay level and other benefits as significant reasons for senior officer retention.
Nevertheless, I am committed to working toward reducing the total time an officer must work to reach top pay – it presently stands at over 16 years – and to supporting long-term pay structure enhancements.
We have established a goal of filling our current 67 vacancies during the present fiscal year. The 12 new positions added recently to the department are critical to our ability to meet the significant challenges facing our dynamically growing city.
Last year, it was discovered that over 100 Raleigh police officers were "double-dipping" with their off duty jobs. According to Chief Perlov, the police department would require a centralized system for coordinating off-duty work schedules. Can you tell us if this "centralized" system was ever put into place, what it was, and if you kept the same system to make sure that the officers do not revert back to their old behavior? – Avery, Raleigh
My review of this matter indicates that two officers were charged with misdemeanor offenses related to working in two places at one time. The majority of the violations reported through the internal audit were for policy violations concerning off-duty reporting and compliance-related activity. There never was any wide-spread “double dipping” problem.
I am in the process of revamping the off-duty policy, which will result in a more organized system of managing off-duty employment through our Special Operations Division. My goal is to complete the work and implement the program by the end of the summer.
I am supportive of officers working off-duty because of the added value to public safety throughout the city and because of the positive enhancement it can bring to our officers’ personal lives. However, a fair and effective off-duty policy and procedure that manages the workload in the best interest of all concerned is a high priority. Please know that officers’ off-duty work is closely monitored.
Estimates are as many as 20 million people are living illegally in the U.S., 500,000 of which are in N.C. You recently said, "It's going to have to take a great deal more meeting of the minds" to deal with that issue. What do you mean by that? What specifically do you think it's going to take? Thank you. – Joshua, Raleigh
The numbers you reference in your question speak volumes to the fact that we must address this growing problem on a national level. For decades, millions of undocumented persons have lived in this country with minimal intervention from the federal government. We must now candidly confront this issue in a manner that develops realistic responses to the challenges and opportunities presented by millions of undocumented people living and working in the United States.
With regard to undocumented persons committing crimes, we should move swiftly insisting that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) become involved. I support the program launched by Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, which makes certain that we identify and check the status of all persons who are charged with crimes and subsequently enter the county correctional facility. Hopefully, our national leaders will develop the political will to craft a comprehensive solution for us all to follow.
What specifically is Raleigh doing to control the increased number of panhandlers in downtown Raleigh? For example, you cannot go out on West Morgan Street in the evenings without being asked several times for money. Homeless people loiter and urinate in public, and when you do call the police about an incident, it may take nearly an hour before an officer even responds. – Ryan Hancock, Raleigh
Please understand that panhandling is not illegal as it is considered a form of protected speech under the first amendment. That being said, the city has a right to regulate the activity through a city ordinance and has done so. The ordinance requires that persons participating in this activity acquire a panhandling permit and restricts panhandling in a number of ways.
Officers routinely check for the permit and other compliance issues when they respond to citizen complaints. We are well aware of and alert to the quality-of-life issues that can be associated with inappropriate panhandling. Our Downtown District Commander, Captain Mike Reynolds, deploys a team of officers daily to address quality-of-life concerns and has reported considerable success working with social service agencies and other entities to address the underlying causes of these problems.
Please don’t hesitate to contact Captain Reynolds or another member of the Downtown District for additional advice or guidance. The district can be reached at 919-890-3855.
Hello Chief Dolan, I live in southeast Raleigh and have noticed an increase in violent crimes in the area. It appears that the crime from the city is blooming outward away from the city. What are your plans to stop this increase in violent crimes (specifically southeast Raleigh)? – Mike B., Raleigh
The most significant violent crime increase we have experienced within our growing city over the past few years is associated with armed robbery. In fact, most of our homicides, which are up as well this year, are the result of armed robbery motives.
We have recently launched a very comprehensive Robbery Suppression Initiative which places emphasis on both enforcement and prevention. Specifically, officers and detectives are focusing their enforcement attention on locations throughout the city where persons and businesses are susceptible to being victims of armed robbery. In addition, our crime prevention professionals are conducting security surveys of numerous vulnerable locations based upon the Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) model.
Finally, all officers assigned to field operations have been trained in robbery suppression/prevention patrol strategies, special operations personnel have been assigned to aggressively patrol “hot spots," and our new work schedule has resulted in a more effective distribution of officers throughout the city.
Regarding the Southeast District of the city, District Commander Captain Tom Earnhardt has launched a Community Police Officer (COP) pilot program. Two community officers have been assigned to geographical beats long plagued by violent crime. The community officers are developing and implementing problem solving strategies focused on reducing violent crime. Our overall goal is to expand the COP program throughout the Southeast District as soon as current vacant police positions are filled. The program promises to provide the RPD with a greater opportunity to develop police service to meet unique neighborhood needs.
In coming months, the RPD will begin the process of developing a five year strategic plan. We anticipate placing a great deal of attention on youth and family issues as a long term crime prevention concept. We are growing increasingly concerned with the rising high school drop out rate and it’s correlation to the increase in criminal gang activity. More information will follow on this critical topic in the near future.
Why do Raleigh officers continue to regularly accept gratuities such as discounted or free drinks and meals while on duty from area restaurants, and don't you feel that accepting such gratuities is unprofessional and leaves a negative impression on the public's perceptions of the force? Thank you. – Mark, Raleigh
It is the policy of the Raleigh Police Department not to accept gratuities. Often times, businesses may offer a free cup of coffee or a discount on a meal. This is generally done as a kind gesture by the business owner. Officers should offer to pay in these instances; however, I would not expect them to argue with the proprietor either. Officers placed in these situations often leave a significant tip covering the gesture. We train our officers not to ask for any favors and we strive to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Does Raleigh have a reserve officer's program? What volunteer options are available within the Raleigh police force to Raleigh citizens? Thanks. – John, Raleigh
I am very pleased to report that the RPD is currently planning for a Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) scheduled to be launched this fall. We anticipate utilizing uniformed volunteers to provide a variety of services throughout the city including recovering found property, enforcing handicapped parking violations, and numerous other duties as assigned. Similar successful programs have been established throughout the country. Keep a check on our web page over the summer for more information.
Our company was recently burglarized and more than 15 computers were taken. Upon filing a police report, we learned that much of the same activity has been occurring in the immediate area in recent weeks and months, and we also understand that the same activity is still occurring. Is there not some way that neighboring businesses, residents, etc. can be alerted of activities of this type so we can all keep an extra eye out? Law enforcement cannot be everywhere at the same time and knowledge is power. If more citizens knew, I could only imagine we would all benefit. – Johnnie Kelly, Raleigh
Just last week, I was meeting with a neighborhood representative, Councilor Thomas Crowder, and Captain Mike Mise, the commander of the Southwest District, and we discussed providing area residents with information concerning crime trends and BOLO (be on the look out for) information through Crime Alert Bulletins distributed by RPD area police districts. Your recommendation is right on track with neighborhood and business requests, and I will work with our district commanders, crime analysts and crime prevention specialists to move forward with this approach.
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