Some question Raleigh police chief's spending
Posted March 16, 2009 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated February 9, 2011 12:47 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — On the job for a year and a half, Raleigh Police Chief Harry Dolan has already been on the receiving end of both praise and criticism.
The former Grand Rapids, Mich., police chief – who was a Raleigh patrol officer in the 1980s – came to Raleigh in 2007 with a vision for community policing.
He is seeing results.
Eight new police officers will soon have neighborhood offices on the east side of downtown. Violent crime is down this year, and a lateral-entry program is under way to attract officers with experience.
Within the police department, however, the chief is hearing concerns.
Some say morale among officers is down, which Rick Armstrong, president of the Raleigh Police Protective Association, said is a serious concern.
The RPPA, which represents approximately 400 officers, is worried about officer turnover and 48 vacancies, though Dolan said he expects to have those positions filled as early as June. Twenty-three candidates are in the final stages of the hiring process.
"I think we're focusing more on recruitment when our problem is retention," Armstrong said. "We lost 78 officers in 2008 and 79 officers in 2007."
Some officers who asked not to be identified say they are concerned that some of the department's expenses were unnecessary last year, including recent renovations that included $125,581.96 for signs, furniture and other office equipment in the department’s downtown headquarters.
That included $8,374.37 for a custom-made security desk for the lobby; $10,000 on interior and exterior painting and $3,100 to pay for and install carpeting and cushioning in elevators.
The building is slated to be demolished in the fall or early next winter to make way for a projected $226 million public safety center that will house the police department as well as offices for other public safety operations.
Dolan, however, said the upgrades and equipment, all of which started in 2007 and the beginning of 2008 prior to the current fiscal year, were needed so that the building maintains a professional appearance for the public and a comfortable work environment for employees.
"I was very concerned with the appearance of the building. These were reasonable expenditures, all within budget," Dolan said. "I take pride in the building, how it looks and the message that it sends to the community."
Dolan defended another purchase, $2,200 for a television for his office, saying it is standard for administrators to have a screen in their offices to help with presentations.
Dolan said he is sensitive to perception. After being asked about the TV, he moved it the lobby instead of buying a new one, given the economy, for another division within the department to use.
Many of the purchases, such as the furniture, are transferrable, he said, and can be moved to the department's temporary office in North Raleigh or to another police department office when the building closes.
Dolan also paid a consultant $24,000 to teach tactical communication skills, which he and other officers can teach, to help officers in the field.
"We are developing the ability here to continue that work for new recruits and officers to go to further training," Dolan said. "He (the consultant) was able to train our officers and continue to train our instructors, including me. I can't train everybody in the department as often as I would like. And I do not have his skill set as the person who wrote the book and developed the course."
He said officers have reported that the training is changing their interactions with the public.
"So, we've seen great dividends. But we still have a lot more to do," he said.
Internal trainers, such as himself, are better equipped to teach new recruits, he said.
Dolan said there are also plans to start a leadership training program in the fall that will cost upward of $60,000. The costs for both that program and the consultant were budgeted last year, prior to the economy's decline.
"I don't apologize for that. If I have the funds and I can hire the very best to train the very best – the men and women of this department – I will do that," Dolan said. "They are the very best instructors, and the officers of this department deserve the very best because the citizens do. And by training the officers at a high level, we're going to get better service."
The department also spent more than $57,000 to replace shoulder patches on uniforms – including $42,875 on 8,575 shirts and $4,200 on 700 jackets – that say "Raleigh Police" instead of "Capital City Police."
Dolan said officers have expressed concern about the patches over the past three decades and that a uniform committee wanted the change to avoid confusion with the State Capitol Police Department.
Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen said each purchase Dolan made was within the budget authority the chief has.
"They are all very low-cost items when you compare to safety vests or light bars or weapons – many of the things we buy for technology or equipment for police," Allen said.
While the spending items in question amount to a small percentage of the department's $90 million budget, Armstrong wonders if it sends the right message.
"There is a lot of money that appears to being spent on these items," he said. "I think the perception among a lot of the rank-and-file is that this money being spent could maybe be spent more appropriately."
"The most important thing is to have the officers on the street," he continued. "That should be the No. 1 priority."