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Officers worry losses endanger security

As the Duke University Police Department grapples with a slew of recent departures, some officers question the safety of students, faculty and staff.

In the event of a catastrophe such as an on-campus shooting, some officers speculate that the results would be tragic.

"There would be a much larger loss of life than necessary," one officer said. Officers interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional consequences.

Nearly one-third of the DUPD force has left in the past two years. That loss would have been difficult at any time, but the crime uptick since last Fall has only heightened the importance of the problem.

Some of the activity has occurred close or adjacent to campus, in areas where DUPD maintains an extended jurisdiction agreement with the Durham Police Department. Administrators said the surge in off-campus crime is drawing officers away from the Gothic Wonderland and more frequently into the streets of the Bull City.

Frustrations at new policies

The past two days, The Chronicle has examined the escalating rate of attrition among DUPD officers. For some officers, the answer to these problems is simple: a leadership change, and the sooner the better.

Aaron Graves, associate vice president for campus safety and security, arrived at Duke in January 2006 from the University of Southern California, where he was chief of public safety. Some officers say his tenure here should be a short one.

For others, it is less clear-cut.

"In my experience, there are many reasons why people choose to leave a police department, including retirement, opportunities for higher compensation or different working conditions at a municipal police force," retiring DUPD Director Robert Dean-a four-decade department veteran-wrote in an e-mail. "I know that some of those who have left had decided to do so before new management came to Duke."

Graves declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article. In a brief telephone conversation, he said he was examining the issues within the department.

Leadership, however, is not the only concern for some officers. They said they are worried about the frequency and area of off-campus patrols, the use of contract security to cover for commissioned officers and a new policy change that some officers say takes power out of their hands and puts it in the central office.

That policy-explained in an internal memo from Dean dated Sept. 12-orders officers to seek permission from a senior staff member on duty before taking suspects into custody.

"I am concerned that inadequate supervision has created a lack of credibility in the eyes of many in our community," Dean wrote in the memo. "This has been further exacerbated by the perception that we and the Durham Police Department are 'Out to get Duke Students.'.... It is a baseless accusation. Nevertheless it is a very real perception."

The policy leads to a conflict of interest, one officer said, as public relations concerns or other motives may be prioritized over student safety.

The University's interests often aren't morally or ethically right, the officer added. He offered as an example Duke's tendency to reduce off-campus patrols to avoid a public perception of the University acting unilaterally against the Durham community.

In that case, the potential for harm to Duke's reputation triumphed over patrols that could have protected students and staff in the surrounding area, he said.

Following the death of graduate student Abhijit Mahato Jan. 18, however, patrols have been restored in full, officers said.

'I don't think we are in a crisis'

Top administrators aren't tipping their hands about possible leadership changes. Executive Vice President Tallman Trask will only say that he is leaving all options on the table.

"Would Duke officers on patrol have prevented what happened to Mahato? I don't think so," he said. "I don't want to be alarmist, and I don't think we are in a crisis."

Trask said he recognizes the urgency of the issue, but said students, faculty and staff are safe.

Kemel Dawkins, vice president for campus services, said he expects to complete a full assessment of the issues in DUPD by summer, as Sibson Consulting-hired by the University in February-completes its analysis.

Meanwhile, the University is relying on more contract security workers, under the belief that some tasks may be adequately performed without fully commissioned officers, Trask said.

Approximately three years ago, Duke began using 10 to 20 AlliedBarton contract security workers to supplement DUPD officers. The recent increase in highly visible off-campus crimes has led to increased use of the strategy.

"In the wake of several of these incidences of assaults off campus, additional patrolling was done by Duke police officers off campus, which meant that some of the roles they were filling on campus were being backstopped by security officers," Dawkins said. "So what we've done is attempted to rotate our forces to where we perceive there to be significant problems."

He added that student safety is "absolutely not" at risk with fewer DUPD officers on campus.

Some DUPD officers, however, disagree with the University's use of AlliedBarton security. One officer referred to the contract security workers as "paper tigers" and suggested that the lower cost of using them may be a factor in the University's decision-making process-an assertion Dawkins denied.

"They are not a deterrent," one officer said of contract security. "Sometimes a gun is necessary."

Too soon to tell

It is too early to draw conclusions about changes to crime numbers since Graves' arrival.

Figures are only available through the end of 2006, and information from 2007 will not be released until October, when it must be available as mandated by the Clery Act, Maj. Gloria Graham, DUPD's operations commander, wrote in an e-mail.

Available statistics paint an unclear picture of campus safety. Only three indices saw significant changes from 2005 to 2006. Burglaries inched up from 44 incidents to 49. Forcible sexual offenses, however, halved from eight to four, and liquor law violation referrals dropped by more than 150 to 294.

Some officers said little substantial progress on Duke's preparedness for an emergency has been made since the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, although the University has announced a number of emergency notification improvements.

Ultimately, officers who expressed concerns about leadership said they are motivated to speak out by the feeling that DUPD's retention problem may ultimately wreak havoc on campus security.

"We're talking about the safety of the student body and employees," one officer said. "We're going to be in jeopardy."

Chelsea Allison contributed to this article.

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