Recruiting qualified officers whose actions show the “professionalism” and “integrity” needed for the job is always a challenge, said Dalton Police Chief Jason Parker.
As a guest speaker addressing Whitfield County’s Chapter 5246 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Parker said the process for becoming an officer is rigorous. In addition to other requirements, it includes a written test, psychological test, polygraph test and physical fitness test.
“It takes 30 applicants to find one successful applicant,” Parker said. “We typically hire every qualified individual we can find.”
The department’s current racial makeup — which is about 6 percent Hispanic with the remainder Caucasian — doesn’t reflect the makeup of the community, Parker said. According to the 2010 Census, that makeup is about 6 percent black or African-American, 65 percent white and the remainder identifying from a variety of races or combinations of races.
Parker said that while the department advertises in minority media, people from other backgrounds can over time help increase their race’s representation in the police department by encouraging young people early on to learn what it takes to qualify and work toward those goals.
NAACP President Dony Suttles said when he was in Whitfield County in the 1960s, he recalls only two black officers working for the department.
Diversity within a department can be important because community members often feel more comfortable talking with officers from backgrounds similar to theirs, Parker said. Nationally, only two out of five crimes that occur are reported to police, Parker said. He said victims are often more likely to report crimes if they have a relationship with someone on the force they believe they can trust.
Parker said that’s why the department, since he became chief in 2007, has worked hard to be accessible. A neighborhood policing program allows people to contact an officer assigned to the small area where they live or work so they can talk to that person about non-emergency concerns as they arise. More information is available at daltonpd.com.
The department also contracts with a service that shows a map where crimes are occurring over a designated period of time. That information is available at dpdonline.org and also in The Daily Citizen.
“Dalton is a safe community ... but there’s more to be done,” Parker said. “More often than not, the police are about one-tenth of the solution (to any problem) and the community is about 90 percent of the solution.”
NAACP member at large Antoine Simmons said the meeting, which is the first of several for organization members to meet with various public officials, helped open the door for people to begin addressing any issues they have.
The department’s website has contact information for officers along with ways to file complaints, report crime tips and request information.