Audit: Roswell police force needs more diversity, leadership

The Roswell Police Department announced Monday it has increased patrols on the city's East side after a resident reported a man driving a "suspicious van" around the Barrington Farms subdivision talking to kids.

The Roswell Police Department announced Monday it has increased patrols on the city's East side after a resident reported a man driving a "suspicious van" around the Barrington Farms subdivision talking to kids.

An audit of the Roswell Police Department ordered after several incidents of officer misconduct has found a department with low morale, a lack of leadership and not enough minority or women officers.

The draft report from the 193-page audit, published Thursday, analyzes problems in the police department and offers 86 recommendations. The majority of the recommendations focus on how the department is organized and managed, rather than police work.

READ | Roswell approves 350-apartment mixed-use development after testy talks

The audit was commissioned by the city soon after a series of embarrassing incidents:

• A now-demoted sergeant whose body camera footage showed him leaving a 13-year-old boy in a cold patrol car and taunting the boy in January 2018.

• Two officers who were fired for using a coin-flip app to decide whether to arrest a woman during a traffic stop in April 2018

• Officers pulled over an off-duty police officer but let him go with a warning after he admitted to speeding and drinking alcohol before driving on March 10, 2018.

The City Council unanimously voted in September to spend $77,000 on Center for Public Safety Management LLC reviewing the department. In December, police chief Rusty Grant announced his retirement.

Roswell Police Chief Rusty Grant announced his retirement in December. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

icon to expand image

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Interim police chief Helen Dunkin and Roswell councilwoman Marie Willsey both declined to comment on the report, saying they wouldn’t talk about business set to come before the council, though there’s no law prohibiting them from doing so. Mayor Lori Henry wasn’t available for comment Tuesday.

It’s unknown if or how the department plans to enact any of the recommendations.

The audit touches on the public’s poor perception of the department among minority residents and how officers feel morale is low because they are afraid of getting in trouble.

“Fear is viewed as a common means of control of officers. Trust is apparently in rare supply,” the report said.

READ | Will $100 million downtown project cost Roswell its charm?

The department is approved for 193 employees, 130 of them officers. The department currently has 110 sworn officers. The report said that 52% of the department’s sworn personnel being assigned to patrol means “the patrol function is likely stressed.”

The report also said that most officers don’t reflect the faces of their community.

“The Roswell Police Department needs to focus more attention on recruiting and hiring more” women and minority officers “to better represent the community it serves,” the report said.

According to 2018 Census estimates, about 76% of the Roswell's residents identified as white. The audit notes Roswell's police force is 90% white.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

About 13% of Roswell’s residents identified as African-American, according to Census data. Of the sworn officers, about 6% (eight people) were African-American. Nearly 15% of the city identified as Latino; 3% (four officers) of the force identified as such.

The police department, which the report said had a 2018 budget of $21.3 million, protects more than 40 square miles. Census data shows that half of the city’s 95,000 residents indicated they were female, but only 13% of the force is identified as female.

READ | Roswell ponders law to reduce hotel crimes' drain on police

Some minority members of the community said that they have been the targets of racial profiling for years, citing instances where they were pulled over for a traffic stop without a good reason. The report didn’t find proof of that, but again said the perception itself is a problem.

The firm specifically reached out to a church to get a perspective from minority residents of Roswell — a city that is mostly white and where the Census says about 9% of the population lives in poverty. Auditors found only senior citizens, and apparently the firm didn’t think it useful to try harder to find out how minority children feel about their police force.

Like North Fulton County News Now on Facebook | Follow on Twitter

“Respondents indicated that they and their peers were generally subjected to a ‘lack of respect’ and ‘rudeness’ by RPD officers and that police operations in their community tended to be ‘heavy-handed,’” the report said.

The Washington, D.C. auditing firm used data from the department and the FBI in its study. The company also interviewed all division commanders and other police department employees..

The firm also interviewed not only residents but members of the police force in January — the same month Dunkin took over as interim chief, making her Roswell's first female top cop.

Roswell's interim police chief Helen Dunkin is sworn in on Jan 4, 2019. (Roswell Police Department Facebook page)

Credit: Roswell Police Department Facebook page

icon to expand image

Credit: Roswell Police Department Facebook page

About the time the draft report was made public last week, media outlets reported on a letter to the city from former department spokeswoman Lisa Holland in which she raised serious concerns about the agency and the interim chief.

Dunkin also declined to comment on the letter, saying it was part of the draft report that would be considered by the City Council.

Holland, who said she started working for the city in 1983, dated the letter May 17 — her last day before retirement. She wrote that she felt Dunkin treated her poorly, adding that the chief made some employees feel unappreciated.

“They are led by fear and intimidation,” Holland wrote.

The auditing firm also heard from staff that “the ‘Good Old Boy’ syndrome was repeatedly referred to as the default culture.”

The report acknowledged that even if it that isn’t true, “the perception alone is troubling.”

» View the report here:

Sample of audit recommendations

The auditing firm gave the Roswell Police Department a total of 86 recommendations for how to improve the agency. Here’s a sample of problems and suggested fixes:

There are not enough officers who are minorities and women on the force

The department lacks leadership, and many employees blame low morale on being afraid of getting in trouble

“Internal affairs investigations take took long, according to some, and bad officers are kept on.”

The agency “lacks sufficient workspace for its employees” but is trying to modify space, like the old detention center

Lieutenants are not eligible for overtime while sergeants are; “therefore, some sergeants have higher overall salaries than some lieutenants.” The report suggests looking at whether that’s a barrier for qualified candidates.