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Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson discusses the challenges and achievements of her first year at the helm.
Aug. 12, 2022, marked Chief Estella D. Patterson’s one-year anniversary as Raleigh’s 30th police chief. She came here with a vision of making “Raleigh the safest city in America.” In a year marked by a waning pandemic and rapid return to “real life,” rising local gun violence and a concentrated focus on police pay, much has happened since Chief Patterson’s swearing in. In her sit-down with Raleigh Magazine, we talked about violent crime, police pay, the officer shortage—plus bringing nobility back to the police profession.
“We are still striving toward Raleigh being the safest city,” says Patterson. While she acknowledges the uptick in violent crime, she clarifies that in her Q2 media rounds she publicly updated that “we’ve seen violent crime go up, but we’re seeing it go back down.” In January this year, we were up 13% in violent crime over last year. We are now still up slightly, but trending down at 4%. “Which is awesome,” she says, “and I credit that to the intentionality of really focusing on our violent crime and then also to the partnerships that we have created, like with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Clearly federal cases don’t resolve quickly, so “that partnership is huge,” she says, adding to that RPD’s close work with the District Attorney’s office via a frequent roundtable to review the city’s most violent crime offenders and ensuring those cases stick and get the most significant charges.
Salary, Recruitment + Retention
“I think a fair compensation for where we live would be to start our officers at least at $60,000,” says Patterson. “I truly believe the capital city should be higher than anybody else.”
However, she’s grateful Raleigh City Council approved police raises, effective July 30, 2022, bumping new officers from an abysmal $42,300 to $50,301—a jump that, at first sight, may look impressive. But much is at play here. While a ~19% raise is nothing to balk at—and makes major strides in helping to fill the roughly 125 vacancies (~15% of the police force—down from 21% in April)—that salary remains outpaced by other agencies in Wake County and across North Carolina.
While there’s still a gap, the chief is keen on highlighting opportunities RPD has to offer that aren’t afforded elsewhere—think take-home cars, serving as canine and motorcycle officers, or on SWAT or crash investigation teams. But Pattersonisn’t resting on her laurels. “We’ll keep fighting to get more,” she says. “We have to be more competitive than what we are now.”
Raleigh Police Foundation
One of Patterson’s proudest accomplishments has been achieving her goal to start a police foundation in Raleigh. Modeled after Charlotte’s foundation, the Raleigh Police Department Foundation (RPDF, raleighpolicefoundation.org) is comprised of a set of stakeholders who provide financial support and advocacy. After a premiere board meeting in early July, led by board chair and “huge PD supporter” Brenda Gibson, “our foundation is full steam ahead,” says Patterson. Beyond connecting NC’s two major metropolises, the foundation provides extraordinary support for our officers by making high-dollar purchases and equipment needs RPD wouldn’t be able to make within its current budget, she explains.
As we approach 9/11, emotions and images flood to mind—including the now ubiquitous photo of first responders raising a flag from the rubble. And while we continue to say “never forget”… have we forgotten? Have we forgotten the gratitude, veneration and admiration we felt for the heroes who ran toward known peril, destruction, debris and devastation? In our sit-down with Chief Estella Patterson, we asked her what she thinks it will take to return to a time when police were trusted and respected. “We have to put the nobility back in,” she says. “I think that has been lost. We have to reinstill the ideal that any profession where you’re serving your community or country is noble.” Patterson points out the disparity in media coverage, implying it is part of the problem. “We had that big incident in April where our officers were shot at in the middle of the day, and that didn’t get a lot of media attention because they’d rather talk about us shooting somebody and killing somebody rather than us being shot at,” says Patterson candidly. “But those are the kinds of things our officers are facing on a daily basis. I just ask the public to continue to support the men and women that do this work. It’s a tough job. It’s going to get tougher every single day. We can’t fix it by ourselves,” she says. “We’re gonna need community support in order to do that.”
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