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DUPD plagued by attrition

Imagine the uproar if Duke lost nearly one-third of its faculty in two years.

That level of attrition is plaguing the Duke University Police Department, and some officers say campus safety is suffering the consequences.

This semester, although issues of crime and safety have never been more prominent, some DUPD officers say no one seems to care about the turmoil in the department.

"Something bad is going to happen," predicted one officer. "We are surrounded by it, and if something doesn't change we are talking about people getting hurt or killed."

Some of DUPD's most experienced officers have left because of alleged dissatisfaction with current departmental policy and with the leadership of top brass including Aaron Graves, associate vice president for campus safety and security, and Maj. Gloria Graham, DUPD's operations commander.

Graves arrived in 2006 and since then at least 19 officers have left DUPD, more than double the previous rate of attrition. According to its Web site, DUPD has 67 commissioned officers.

"We just don't have enough officers and our reserves are depleted," said one veteran DUPD officer who wished to remain anonymous.

All officers interviewed for this article asked to remain anonymous out of fear of professional consequences.

Searching for reasons

Why such extreme turnover? Graves is at the heart of the problem, some officers say.

"The promotional system has completely become a joke," one said. "Aaron Graves promoted his buddies.... There ought to be some loyalty to the people he has here."

The duo of Graves and Graham may have faced similar issues just a few years ago at the University of Southern California, some former USC officers said.

Graham was a captain in USC's Department of Public Safety, where Graves was chief. Although he has acknowledged that Graham was hired by DUPD over several internal candidates, Graves said she was the best candidate for the position.

Graham was hired in July 2007 but only started on the job in January. She spent six months in the process of certification to be an officer in North Carolina.

In an interview, Graham said bringing new leadership to a police department always causes tension with current officers, and Duke is no exception.

No conclusions should be drawn from the spike in officer departures since Graves' arrival, she said.

"There is no correlation there," Graham said.

There has been interest in filling the vacancies, but Graham said the department has yet to find the right people for the slots.

"We get a lot of interest in DUPD, but we just can't hire everybody," she said.

Graves declined repeated requests for an in-person interview or for specific responses to questions via e-mail, labeling many accusations as "sensational."

Grappling with the loss of veterans

This academic year has seen an increase in highly visible crime on and around campus. Incidents have occurred under the jurisdictions of both the Durham Police Department and DUPD.

The two departments share responsibility for some areas directly adjacent to campus, such as the Ninth Street district, Trinity Park and popular apartment complexes off Erwin Road where many undergraduate and graduate students live.

DUPD does not patrol near where graduate student Abhijit Mahato was killed Jan. 18.

Still, it's hard not to wonder, some officers said, if there might have been a difference in the recent spate of crimes had fewer veteran officers left DUPD in the past two years.

"The people leaving are those with the most experience," said one officer. "You can't replace that."

In Graves' first year, 11 officers left the department. A normal rate is two to four departures per year, DUPD officers and University administrators said.

Some divisions have been hit especially hard. One department, Investigations, has been slashed from three sergeants to one, one officer said.

All of this leads to fewer officers patrolling high-visibility off-campus routes or more cases of DPD being called in situations that could be under DUPD jurisdiction, officers said.

That can come at students' expense, officers said.

"I think Durham police sometimes zeroes in on Duke students, while officers like myself are trying to educate students," one officer said.

'Insulting and dangerous'

Officers interviewed for this article said the department will need to fill vacancies-soon.

"We're going to be in such a rush to hire people that we're going to have to lower our standards," one officer said.

In reaction to the exodus from the department, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask has hired Sibson Consulting, an international human resources firm, to assess turnover, according to an internal DUPD memo dated Feb. 28.

Ultimately, responsibility for the department resides with Trask and Kemel Dawkins, vice president for campus services and security.

Asked directly if he was satisfied with current departmental leadership, Trask responded, "I wouldn't go that far."

Although issues of compensation and departmental philosophy may have been a factor in some of the departures, Trask conceded that leadership was a major concern of some recently departed DUPD officers.

Even with current leadership in place, some officers said morale might be improved if upper management showed more confidence in officers on the ground.

"There is a view by the second-floor administration that we are incompetent," one officer said, referring to upper-level offices in DUPD's headquarters. "It's a level of micromanagement that is insulting and dangerous."

Graves denied that officer morale has declined during his tenure and said retention involves difficult and complex questions.

"I'm prepared to address these issues but [The Chronicle] is not the forum for that," he said in a brief telephone conversation.

Chelsea Allison contributed to this article.

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