Davidson’s New Police Chief, Penny Dunn
Following an exhaustive search through 110 applicants, the Town of Davidson this summer hired Penny Dunn as Chief of Police to replace the retiring Jeanne Miller. A native of Houston, Texas, Dunn began her career in law enforcement in 1986 with the police department in Friendswood, Texas. But she spent the last 28 years with the police department in the city of San Marcos, Texas, and was assistant chief there for the past three years. Here in Davidson, she is charged with managing about 20 percent of the town budget–$2.2 million of the total $11 million—and supervising a 22-person staff.
News of Davidson had the opportunity to interview Chief Dunn recently, and here are some excerpts from that conversation.
Q: How did you get started in police work?
A: I grew up in the Methodist church, and serving others was a strong calling in my family. I was a Girl Scout and played high school volleyball, softball, and track and field. I enjoyed helping others, physical activities, and teamwork, so being a police officer was a natural fit. In 1986 I was hired in the Friendswood police department. In 1989, I joined the force in San Marcos, and was there for 28 years. I went through the ranks and served the last three years as assistant chief. I was ready to try the next level and started looking for a chief’s job. I looked around Texas, but when this job opened in Davidson, I fell in love with the community.
Q: What does it take to be a police officer?
A: Law enforcement is a dynamic job. You have hours of tedium followed by bursts of anxiety, fear, and physical exertion. Many things happen at the same time. First of all, you always have to be cognizant of your safety and the safety of others. When you make a stop or respond to a call, you’re thinking about what laws apply to the situation, and how to protect the rights of the accused and the victims. I like that aspect of it. I worked in every division of the San Marco police department— patrol, investigations, training, and under-cover narcotics, including two years assigned with a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) state and local task force in Austin. I also worked criminal investigations, which included homicide, child abuse, sexual assault, and robberies. You name it, I’ve worked it.
Q: Did you get any advice from Chief Miller about the force here?
A: We talked about the community policing model she brought here. We also spent a lot of time talking about our advance accreditation from the Commission for the Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). It means your agency operates according to best practices among law enforcement agencies around the country. Achieving accreditation involves the entire staff, and is rare for an agency of Davidson’s size. The town can be very proud of that.
Q: As Charlotte grows to swallow up Davidson, can we assume that crime will increase, and what can you do to meet it?
A: The important thing for the police department is to make sure the force remains at an appropriate size. You have to realize that a new recruit has to go through academy training and field training that could take up to nine months. You’re always operating a little bit behind, but we’re always thinking about the equipment we need, the officers we need, and how we’re going to find quality candidates. You don’t want to just settle and put a body on the street. You want to make sure that recruits share your vision about what it means to be an officer here in Davidson.
Q: It seems like there’s very little crime in Davidson. Is that really the case?
A: When people say, “Nothing ever happens in Davidson,” I respond, “Oh no! That’s not true.” Everything that happens anywhere else in America happens here, though the amount is relative, based on our size.
Q: What can citizens do to make sure it remains a safe place to live?
A: I always tell citizens two things. One is to be aware of your surroundings and report suspicious activity. The second thing is to not become complacent. You can bet that crooks know all of the things that make Davidson a great community. People may leave things in their car with the doors unlocked—a backpack, purse, computer, a GPS. We also have a college campus here, and all that together makes Davidson what we call a “target rich environment.“ All the criminals have to do is check a car or house door and let themselves in to take whatever they want. Criminals who have been caught for crimes here are generally from another area who come here to “shop,” because they know people here feel safe and are taking their safety for granted. You’ve got to be vigilant about your safety and securing your property.
Q: What do you think about dashboard and body cameras for police officers?
A: I love them. All Davidson officers have body worn cameras and a camera in the car. We started using them halfway through my career at San Marcos, and I wish we had them from the start. I’ve found that video recordings have cleared more officers of wrongful accusations than have led to issues with an officer’s misbehavior. Some people get a skewed perception of an incident because they’re nervous and anxious when having contact with an officer. When you show them the video and the officer is acting properly they’ll say “That’s not how I remember it.” Well, it’s hard to argue with the video. Cameras are also very helpful as a report-writing tool. If you’re in the heat of things and aren’t able to write down notes, watching the video can be very helpful.
Q: How Is your job complicated by the fact that the college also has a police force?
A: In Texas, a campus officer is just like any other sworn police officer. That’s different here, in that we have jurisdiction on campus, as well as elsewhere, but the campus officers have jurisdiction only on campus. Nevertheless, if there’s ever an incident that warrants it, each force would back up the other. The other thing is that campus police work in a very different environment. Their interest is in educating young people for the future, and in retaining them as students through graduation. So we can help the campus officers by letting them know if we have issues with a student. There are steps the campus police can take that would be difficult for us, such as applying the Honor Code and Code of Conduct, alcohol training and enforcement, community service, and maybe even involvement with parents. So we share a common goal in protecting students, and will work on that with campus police.
Q: Do you have any major hobbies or outside interests?
A: I love hiking and camping, and I read a lot. I also travel to watch my daughter play college volleyball, and I have a son who graduated from Texas A&M in May as a biomedical engineer. He has accepted a job in Denver and is recently engaged. We look forward to visiting him and his fiancée, and for our family to visit us in Davidson.
Q: What are your priorities here at the beginning of your Davidson career?
A: I want to spend the first 90 to 120 days observing and evaluating the department before I set any goals. I have some ideas, but I want to get input from the staff first about what they’re doing and what they want to start doing. First, unfortunately, they’ve got to train me, and bring me up to speed. A lot of people might say, “These are your officers, they work for you.” No, in fact, I work for them, just like I work for the staff and the citizens of the town, and my responsibilities are to provide them with the opportunity, training, and equipment to do their job. That’s probably what I feel strongest about. Succession planning and leadership development will be high on my list.
Citizens are invited to visit with Chief Dunn at a “Meet & Greet” event on Monday, September 25, in the Ada Jenkins Center Gym. The event runs from 6-7:30 p.m. In addition to Chief Dunn, several other police officers will be present, light refreshments will be served, and a police cruiser will be available for inspection.
Bill Giduz was the son who followed his father’s footsteps into journalism. He has been involved his entire life with news and photography in schools he attended and jobs he’s held. He believes now that he’s got a few good years left to devote to The News of Davidson.