Michele Weinzetl from BerryDunn, a consulting firm based in Portland, Maine, listens as citizens express their feelings about the Dunwoody Police Department.

About 25 residents on Jan. 24 heard a presentation by BerryDunn, a consulting firm tasked with studying Dunwoody’s Police Department operations and staffing, but it appears that most of the attendees felt that the agency was doing a stellar job.

During an open forum moderated by BerryDunn Justice and Public Safety Manager Michele Weinzetl, most people voiced support for the department.

“All in all, what I can say to the police department is ‘thanks,’” said former Dunwoody Mayor Dennis Shortal, who attended the forum at the city’s Shallowford Road Annex Building. “Showing thanks and respect goes a long way.”

Another attendee said she believed that the police “do an exceptionally good job in Dunwoody,” and that citizens need to have more empathy towards the city’s officers.

Still another said 99 percent of mistakes made by officers “are done unintentionally.”

One attendee, however, Ali Mahbod, said he was concerned about the number of lawsuits and court settlements that have been incurred after allegations were made against former Lt. Fidel Espinoza, who multiple officers accused of sexual harassment in 2020.

Two separate complaints were filed in 2020 by former DPD Officers Roger Halstead and Austin Handle, as well as transport officer Brian Bolden. The complaints allege that Espinoza engaged in sexual harassment, along with other higher-ranking officers, inflicted retaliation, libel, slander, emotional distress and the created a hostile work environment over a period of years. Another officer, Bryan Castellanos, joined the lawsuit last July. The cases are still pending resolution.

Espinoza resigned shortly after the allegations were made public, and the officers who accused him of sexual harassment have either left the department or been fired for unrelated offenses.

Mahbod, who said he volunteered with the Dunwoody Police Foundation for several years, remarked that “all the problems with the department seem to point to Chief (Billy) Grogan.”

“I am now volunteering with the city of Atlanta’s police department, and with all of its problems, there seems to be a better culture there than in Dunwoody,” Mahbod said.  

Last August, the city approved the $117,500 contract with BerryDunn for a professional study of the police department to include data collection from internal documents, interviews with stakeholders both in and outside the police departments, an examination of policies and procedures and current staffing. The forum on Jan. 25 was one of the elements of the study.

At the time that the contract was awarded, Dunwoody Communication Manager Jennifer Boettcher said that the department review arose from hiring challenges the city has been facing with the police department, and not from the allegations surrounding Espinoza.

According to BerryDunn’s proposal, the results of the study will be used to plan for “current and future public safety services.”

BerryDunn’s study is also expected to evaluate technology, the department’s organizational structure, management systems and human resources processes, customer service and satisfaction, use of force and community policing practices, and budget. 

Cathy Cobbs

Cathy Cobbs covers Dunwoody for Reporter Newspapers and Rough Draft Atlanta. She can be reached at cathy@roughdraftatlanta.com