Local detective on Roswell Police: 'Lack of morale breeds contempt'

Nearly a year after the previous Roswell Police Department chief promised a "top-down" review of the department, an external audit has been completed. Since then, that chief, Rusty Grant, has stepped down and Center for Public Safety Management LLC has found a department that is suffering from low morale. The 182-page audit, however, focuses most of its 86 recommendations on management and organization--not police work. The draft report was released in late June, with the department under the leadership of interim police chief Helen Dunkin. 
WSB Radio has reached out to Interim Chief Dunkin for comment.

Among the notable findings: Roswell PD has a lack of leadership. Its low morale is blamed in part on officers being afraid that they might get in trouble. The audit says, "Fear is viewed as a common means of control of officers. Trust is apparently in rare supply." CPSM also found a department without enough minority or women police officers and said that residents have a perception that officers are rude and heavy-handed, though there was no data found to support a feeling from some residents of color that their communities have been racially profiled.

Vince Velazquez, a retired Atlanta Police homicide detective with 22 years on the job, tells WSB that morale is extremely important to a police department.

"What that is is the pulse of the police department," says Velazquez. "If you have police officers who are interacting with the public and, in essence, have the public's safety and lives in their hands, it's important that you have police officers that are working every day that want to do the job, that want to follow orders, and want to do a good job.

"Lack of morale breeds contempt, it breeds sloppiness, it breeds corruption."

The audit was commissioned after several 2018 incidents involving Roswell police officers had come to light: In one case, a police sergeant trying to get a 13-year-old boy driving a golf cart to talk put the boy--whose sleeves were wet and frozen--in a patrol car, turned off the engine, and let the January air come in through its lowered windows. In March, an off-duty officer who admitted to speeding and drinking before driving was let go with a warning. In April, two officers used a coin-flip app to decide whether to arrest a speeding driver.

Velazquez says management sets the tone in a department--and good or bad, it filters down quickly to the boots on the ground--the officers who are dealing with the public. Low morale, then, becomes detrimental in more ways than one.

"In this particular case, when you have police officers coming to work every day and they're just there to get a paycheck--because that's what it turns into--that's dangerous. That's dangerous for the police officers, and it's dangerous for the community."

The auditing firm interviewed department commanders and was told by staff that “the ‘Good Old Boy’ syndrome was repeatedly referred to as the default culture.” Velazquez notes that that "syndrome" is a sign that the old way of doing things is an acceptable way--even if the old way is not appropriate. Social media and body cams, he says, are helping shine light on that to help police departments root it out.

"You referenced the flipping the coin incident. I saw that. I was disgusted by that," says Velazquez. "They felt so comfortable with doing that. Although it was on video, that wasn't the first time that's happened, or something similar to that--which means that management has not set the tone to show behavior like that is totally unacceptable. That is the good ol' boy system."

The law enforcement veteran whose crime-solving is now the focus of a TV One television show in its second season says integrity is the most important thing that a police chief can have.

Without that, Velazquez says, no officer will feel comfortable following the rules.

"That's leadership--when you want to do a good job because you trust your boss--you trust your chief," says Velazquez.

Roswell Police posted body video of the incidents here:

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