Business

Chief Dunn: Managing with empathy

DAVIDSON’S CHIEF OF POLICE IS KNOWN FOR SOLVING AN 18 YR OLD COLD CASE

By Debbie Griffin. Davidson Police Chief Penny Dunn totes a toolbox full of resources that help lead the force and protect public safety, but she says a culture of caring is probably the most powerful one.

Internally and externally, she wants to cultivate open dialogue and good relationships. She does it in small ways such as public recognition – and cake – for longtime service and promotions, as well as a text of congratulations to an officer with a new baby.

Women chiefs of police are few and far between. Only about a dozen women lead police departments in America’s 100 largest cities. Women in policing are more inclined to use communication skills rather than physical skills. They’re more inclusive than their male counterparts.

Dunn said the key to her success and on-the-job satisfaction is to help others be successful.

She has 33 years of experience and came to the force in late summer of 2017, after the town waded through more than 100 applications. Davidson is her first chief job but not her first leadership role.

She retired from the San Marcos Police Department in Texas as an assistant chief. Dunn has worked with K-9, narcotics, criminal investigations and as part of a DEA federal task force. She also has a long resume of participation in family justice and law enforcement organizations.

She administers a 29-person department and publicly funded budget of roughly $2.2 million.

Dunn said one of her favorite middle school teachers became a police officer and would occasionally return to the school and do presentations about her new line of work.

“It sounded interesting to me,” Dunn said. It was her first exposure to a woman in law enforcement.

A Texas native, she graduated high school and began her career at the Friendswood Police Dept. Later, she moved from the Houston area to the more central San Marcos, where she stayed for 28 years. She’d been looking for chief’s job when she saw the Davidson position advertised on an association board.

Times change

Dunn began her career when active-shooter training was uncommon. Now, it’s a necessity for all departments as they try to prepare for anything.

Dunn said two officers from Davidson will attend training in Colorado soon, which they will then share among fellow emergency responders and eventually the community, too. The chief said the police are getting more requests all the time for help, information and education to prepare for worst-case scenarios.

Ups, downs

Dunn said she’s “prayed and cried” with many families after delivering news of a loved-one’s sudden death.

The police are frequently thrust into caring for mentally ill people, such as suicidal subjects, who in turn have insufficient resources to support them. Treatment has shifted from institutionalized care to community-based care, and the latter method has not been sufficient for all needs. Dunn said good progress in officer training and resource programs has been made, but there needs to be more.

High on Dunn’s list of best things about the job is being able to assist victims and help families achieve justice.

Dunn is well-known in the world of policing for having closed Texas’ oldest unsolved murder case, which was18 years old the day a supervisor told her to call and update the family.

Dunn talked to the victim’s sister and kept caring and working on the case as time allowed. She persisted over the years in resubmitting a partial DNA sample each time there was a technological advancement.

“We put it in the database and identified a serial rapist and murderer who was incarcerated in California,” she said.

Since a jury-trial conviction in 2013 for the rape and murder of a San Marcos woman, the murderer sits on Texas’ death row and is believed to be responsible for three other deaths. Dunn had grown close to the victim’s family, some of whom live in Georgia and were the first people to visit her in Davidson.

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