Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dunwoody gears up to launch police force - AJC


A case of bullets nearly stopped the budding Dunwoody Police Department.

The new city worked nonstop for three months to recruit officers, develop policies and buy gear to get its police force on the streets by Wednesday. But because of a national run on ammunition, the department was desperate for bullets appropriate for target practice.

Without them, new police hires couldn’t qualify. And that meant no cops on the street, in a cruel April Fool’s joke on a city that exists largely because voters wanted a more visible police presence.

Councilman Tom Taylor, a competitive shooter, suggested a Villa Rica store that agreed to set aside 500 bullets for the department. The Dunwoody Police Department was back on track.

“It was going to be like Barney and Andy, with everyone getting one bullet,” Taylor said. “But they knew we had to be on the street on April 1, so they helped us. Everyone knows we’re committed to doing this.”

City residents are just days away from seeing the black-and-white cruisers of Dunwoody police patrolling their streets.

But aside from a well-publicized job fair for officers, the bulk of the effort to make that happen — and quickly — took place behind the scenes in City Hall offices, staff meetings and phone calls — like the one begging for bullets.

As part of the push for cityhood a year ago, a committee of residents envisioned what their police force would look like. The city wanted the latest in weapons and gear to lure only the most professional officers.

Still, they insisted their department be lean and cheap. Initial plans called for just a 28-member force, for less than $3 million.

When City Manager Warren Hutmacher and police Chief Billy Grogan came on board last fall, though, they made it clear that if the city wanted a top-flight department, it would mean more bodies and more money.

The final budget gave the department $5.7 million to fund 48 positions, including 29 patrol officers and 40 take-home Ford Crown Victorias.

Money in hand, Grogan’s first act was to hire a command staff and assign each commander a specific task for building the force from the ground up. They were guided by that citizen committee’s wish list for weapons, cruisers and uniforms.

Deputy Chief David Sides set about overseeing equipment and procedures. Lt. David Barnes began recruiting for the department.

Lt. Oliver Fladrich quickly ordered the cars and their equipment. Lt. William Hegwood furiously developed training.

One speed advantage: Grogan, Sides and Barnes all knew each other from working in Marietta. And the entire command staff knew police work inside-out, which helped keep chatter to a minimum.

“I’m able to use two words to ask him a question, and he’ll give me a one-word response, and we’re done,” Sides said of interactions with Grogan. “We have 15-minute meetings.”

Grogan’s team set up plans for at least five officers on duty at any given time, up from the three DeKalb County police officers previously assigned to the district.

In addition, there will be a forensic unit, detectives and other specialties.

Recruiting and hiring, the most visible part of the process, was also the hardest for Grogan. The city had eight qualified applicants for each open position.

But Grogan said he knew if residents were going to see results from incorporation, it would take more than just watching patrol cars drive by. He pushed for officers who would be at ease talking with the well-heeled homeowners and young apartment-dwellers who dominate the city. And he equipped every cruiser with GPS to give officers more time to talk to residents instead of trying to get around.

“Interpersonal skills are an important part of this job for this city,” Grogan said. “Interaction and service go together.”

Training began for the new hires earlier this month, while Grogan and his staff began moving from their space in the temporary City Hall in Sandy Springs. But Grogan and his crew continued to do major work on minor things.

It took six weeks just to get the navy uniforms in, because they needed to be imprinted with the department’s patch, designed by a local committee in January. And the city is still waiting for its tin badges — which will include an outline of the historic Dunwoody Farmhouse, a familiar symbol for the city.

“A lot of things fall into that category, details that you absolutely have to get right to make everything work,” Grogan said.

“But we will get it done. We are going live [on] the 1st no matter what.”

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