Mayor Andy Berke is about to name his next police chief and solicit the approval of city council for one of three on a short list. Police reform appears off the table as no recent blueblood bloodletting has captured the public imagination and sparked calls for a shake-up in training and the use of lethal force.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM
Reform would serve Mr. Berke’s Democrat party-oriented marketing among blacks, because it would appease that people’s longstanding grievance over policing and account for the fear police generally cause among blacks. But there is little visible pressure from black political spokesmen and churchman for an overhaul of the military-oriented and violent organization serving Mr. Berke. Blacks and the poor are the largest groups targeted by statutory enforcement by the organization that boasts nearly 500 taxpayer-paid sworn and pistol-toting officers.
The Police Executive Research Forum’s Chuck Wexler proposes the saving of American lives by altering the outlook and training among police, a humanization of the profession. An American is six times more likely to be slain by a police officer than a foreign Muslim terrorist, according to a Cato Institute study. In 2016, U.S. cops killed 1,162 people, and have slain 711 people thus far this year.
Reform would bring new training to bear that would have the officer use space, cover, time and de-escalation techniques to avoid executions and test the escalations leading to gunfire and lethal tasings. Even as cities such as Camden, N.J., and Seattle try these reforms, Tennessee and other states allow for statutorily permitted, extra-judicial summary executions of people who have committed nothing worthy of capital punishment. Training, however, would be a good start in Chattanooga. Mr. Wexler says a survey finds that while agencies spend a median of 58 hours of recruit training on firearms and another 49 hours on defensive tactics, they spend only about eight hours of recruit training each on the topics of de-escalation and crisis intervention.
Mr. Berke’s agency creates a hazard for the people of Chattanooga in several areas.
The unmarked car symptom
City police face a challenge over their increasing use of unmarked police cars in traffic enforcement.
➤ No explicit statutory authority exists for the practice.
➤ Disguised cars are a public nuisance because they create fright and fear among innocent members of the public. Roadblocks are done by supreme court permission with high priority given to public notice, including newspaper publication and warning signs to allow roadblocks to be avoided. The city posts an orange poster warning of “radar enforcement” before stationary unmarked cars, as it does at the cop car posted on Highway 153 at the Hixson interchange.
An act that creates fear of injury or battery is assault, a criminal act. Unmarked cars with internal lights are not clearly in public service, and have been used by private malefactors such as “blue light rapist” Robert Todd Burmingham of Arkansas to waylay travelers after dark, with women traveling alone especially vulnerable.
Unmarked cars do not appear to be allowed in Chief Fred Fletcher’s operations orders, though clearly he is not the source of their authority either way. The department’s proposed remedies for the fright problem — calling 911, for example — are impractical, especially if the person targeted is a stranger in the city or the traveler is disoriented.
Unmarked cars doing traffic enforcement is underhanded and puts the people in danger, demanding of the public the presumption that every passenger car with blue lights flashing on the dashboard is a proper police car.
Another grave offense against constitutional Liberty is in traffic stops when the officer actively arrests travelers without reading them their Miranda rights and acts as if they have to prove their innocence rather than that he must prove his authority by presentation of warrant, probable cause or reasonable suspicion.
Culture of lying and threat
The department appears to violate constitutional rights as a matter of duty, the chief being the absence of authority to act absent a warrant or probable cause. The Hanson Melvin case strongly suggest that the self-seeking code of blue is very strong in the Chattanooga police department and that officers are free to work in concert to intimidate a victim.
Mr. Melvin is suing for the violation this constitutional rights for his arrest and the perjury of the officer arrested him and a remarkable “friendly visit” by up to eight officers the moment he returned home in Hixson from jail and was arrested again without probable cause.
The lawsuit by Mr. Melvin and his wife, Tara, says the department has a culture of deceit and oppression among members in its ranks. David Campbell, the officer who arrested Mr. Melvin, perjured himself twice but was not accused of perjury or lying, which are serious offenses for an officer of the law. In the Melvin case, the officer’s crimes were handled as administrative violations rather than a statutory crimes, with complicity of district attorney Neal Pinkston.
The night Mr. Melvin was seized without probable cause, a neighbor, Rochelle Gelpin, was subject to identical treatment by officer Jeff Rahn, who arrested her without probable cause. Mrs. Gelpin sat on her rights and with the passage of a year lost her means to sue the department for damages. Both victims are black, and statements Messrs. Campbell and Rahn made are highly racist and pejorative (“This is government property,” the officers said).
Authority in question in supreme court rulings
Two supreme court rulings out of Chattanooga deal with municipal power suggest that Chattanooga has no authority to enforce statute at all within the city limit. This observation is made by Soddy-Daisy resident Basil Marceaux, a legal reform activist and political candidate who has been arrested as many as 60 times in his bid to overturn police abuse.
Mr. Marceaux says that two cases, Chattanooga vs. Davis and Chattanooga vs. Myers unequivocally declare that municipal government does not have punitive power, but only the power to fine — this authority is limited to a $50 fine for an ordinance violation. That being the case, how does the city enforce a panoply of criminal statutes, from disorderly conduct to murder?
That every city in the state has a police department enforcing statute, effectively ignoring Myers and Davis, makes Mr. Marceaux indignant because no one can ignore the supreme court, he argues.
Judicial-industrial complex keeps going
The use of unmarked cars is a picture of the larger trend toward militarization and surveillance of the people. Mayor Berke’s department is less and less, it seems, about peacekeeping and a visible presence to remind people of laws they agreed to uphold. Rather, the executive branch’s police agency is more about harassment and entrapment than plainspoken and clearcut giving notice of laws and enforcing them upon proper subjects.
Mayor Berke’s office continues to feed defendants into the county’s and state’s judicial industrial complex, which requires many bodies to keep itself profitable and to justify large expenses in staff and capital investment. The county is considering hiring a for-profit corporation to build and run a new jail, one that will have money-making as an incentive to keep cells full.
McPherson v. Roddy
Of the three candidates, Edwin McPherson is likely to be the most sensitive to police abuse of the citizenry, David Roddy the least. Acting chief Roddy has a militaristic approach to law enforcement. New armor for officers. A heart-pounding high-tech shootout simulator sought by the Aegis Law Enforcement Foundation. Predictive crime analysis software. License plate readers for mass surveillance of travelers and commerce on the highways. The use of Stingray cellphone surveillance systems already in use in the Chattanooga area by U.S. authorities.
The state’s abusive law enforcement of travelers will likely find no end with the coming chief, whose conventional understanding is that no use of car or truck is legal apart from commercial enforcement (licensure of the traveler as a driver, registration of cars and trucks as motor vehicles, and compulsory insurance), though legal challenges are bringing this 80-year-old system of harassment to bar.
In January a public interest law firm filed suit in U.S. district court over the civil death sentence imposed by the police/court system against those who cannot pay fines and fees and whose driver licenses are revoked administratively without due process.
An important figure in bringing widespread relief of the traffic enforcement system is Arthur J. Hirsch of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., who is appealing instate courts three criminal convictions for traveling on the public right-of-way by insisting that the transportation statutes in title 55 the Tennessee code annotated cannot be used justly against people exercising a God-given constitutionally protected right to travel in their private cars or trucks, outside of commerce and outside of transportation.