From left, DCSS attorney Tommy Coleman, DCSS Police Chief Troy Conley, system consultant Jack Willis and Public Information Director R.D. Harter listen to Gray Rothwell present his report on the effectiveness of the DCSSPD to the Board of Education Wednesday.
ALBANY — The Dougherty County Board of Education got a look Wednesday at a 90-page report outlining the first assessment of the Dougherty County School System Police Department since the department was chartered in 2006.
The assessment, which began in June and concluded in July, was conducted by a team lead by former Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Gary Rothwell. The report, a copy of which was obtained by The Herald, listed the department’s strengths and weaknesses and offered suggestions for improvement.
Some of the key strengths listed in the report included:
— DCSS police personnel are experienced and competent performing unique law enforcement and security functions in school settings.
— The DCSS PD is an asset to the DCSS in providing competent school-based police services more effectively and efficiently than contracting services from other agencies.
— The DCSS PD is well regarded and appreciated by the local criminal justice community.
— Participants recognized shortfalls and are willing to adjust practices to compensate for identified problems.
The report, however also pointed out that the department is fractured, suffering from morale problems stemming from a command management style perceived as autocratic and retaliatory to officers who either voiced or filed complaints.
In the report, “(DCSS Chief Troy) Conley denied retaliating against people who complain about issues within the department. He thinks these employees would complain about supervisors in any organization.” Conley admitted being “disturbed” when employees bypass the chain of command and go directly to members of the school board.
In mid-June, citing concerns from staff and some board members, DCSS Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely asked Rothwell to conduct an assessment of the department — with Conley and Assistant Chief J.C. Phillips at the center of attention.
The assessment team interviewed Conley and Phillips, all seven Board members, DCSS attorney Tommy Coleman, 16 of the department’s 22 full-time officers, District Attorney Greg Edwards, Albany Police Chief John Proctor, Doughtery County Police Chief Jackie Battle, Dougherty Sheriff Kevin Sproul and former DCSS Assistant Superintendent Kenneth Goseer.
“Everyone was candid and cooperative,” Rothwell said. “We didn’t meet with any resistance.”
The report pointed out that “Sproul does have one unique relationship with the DCSS PD because it is from him DCSS PD officers derive their powers of arrest. Not long after taking office in 2009, Sproul was asked to deputize DCSS PD officers so they could handle school-related functions off campus. The previous sheriff (Jamil Saba) had refused to do this.
“Sproul, who had much experience working with juveniles in school settings as a sheriff’s deputy, knew that deputizing DCSS PD officers would make them more effective and would allow them to work security at sporting events and other school functions. Therefore, he agreed to deputize them, but limited the authority to school-related law enforcement.”
The DCSS PD made 533 arrests in 2011-12 and 338 in 2012-13. In 2011-12, the most active full-time officer made 76 arrests while the least active made just nine. In 2012-13, the highest arrest total for a full time officer was 65, while the lowest was four. The variation, however can be explained by assignment. An officer working at a high school is likely to make more arrests than an officers assigned to a middle school.
Since August 2006, DCSS police have referred 1,170 criminal cases for prosecution. No data were available for conviction rates. but Edwards said the quality of DCSS PD cases was similar to other local police agencies.
The team concluded that “the seemingly high number of arrests by the DCSS PD have been a concern for some members of the board, so it would be beneficial to compare its numbers with other school systems and police departments in Georgia, including larger and smaller systems.”
The report also recommended collecting data that capture other activities of officers, adding “police successes often occur through outcomes other than arrests.”
“I met with the superintendent on Tuesday and he gave me a brief overview of what was in the report, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet,” Conley said. “Let me read it and I’ll be glad to discuss it tomorrow.”