Mayor Andy Berke, heeding growing public interest in reform, tells of an encounter between a drunken husband and an officer that in times past might have ended in a lethal police gunshot.
In a “media-only” talk Friday to announce his chief of police pick, Mr. Berke tells about officer Jeffrey Abbott who acted to disarm a city resident who had fired several gunshots into walls and roof and terrified members of his family.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM
Mr. Abbott “went to a place where they’d gotten a call that somebody was threatening to kill himself. There had been shots fired — there were all kinds of issues,” the mayor says to a host of reporters, backed by a row of supportive city council members.
“So officer Abbott went out there and found out from the wife that there was — that her husband was intoxicated. He had been firing off guns. And officer Abbott *** asked the sergeant in charge if he could talk to the person because he knew him from church. At his own risk, he talked to the person, talked him down, de-escalated it, took control of the weapons — and there were multiple weapons found there,” the event ending with nary a police pistol discharged.
Such stories “inspire me every single day,” the mayor says. “We needed somebody who is worthy of the people” of the city to replace the departed chief, Fred Fletcher, a new boss “who is there to help inspire these officers every single night as they risk their lives on behalf of our community.”
Mr. Berke boasts about increasing the number of sworn officers, from 443 officers at the start of his first term to now 500 officers at the start of his second. He praises city council for allocating tax dollars for improved facilities in its surveillance infrastructure (“real-time intelligence center”) “so that more of us can be safe, every single day.”
Mr. Roddy has been second in command in the department under Mr. Fletcher and wins high praise. “He understands this job is about community and safety, not about punishment. We want our officers, ultimately, to be — just talking to people and enjoying the great safe city that they live in. It’s not about trying to catch people all of the time, although that certainly is part of the job.”
Mr. Berke says the “ultimate goal is to keep us safe and grow the prosperity of our community in the great place in which we live.”
‘That hasn’t happened in Chattanooga’
Mr. Berke acknowledges the rising bitterness among residents and voters over a continuing rush of reports about police killings, beating, lethal tasings and plantings of false evidence, as in Baltimore. The Berke administration has quietly endured continuing coverage in Chattanooga about officers’ acting without probable cause and abusing citizens, including one case that has brought a lawsuit.
Still, he gives a glowing report about the River City.
Though “tremendous distrust” has grown in many cities between cops and the citizenry, he says, “that hasn’t happened here in Chattanooga. And one reason is the leadership we have, and chief Roddy has been a big part of that.”
Mr. Roddy cares about victims, not just catching perpetrators, Mr. Berke says.
Anxious about critical media
Feeling threatened by a city radio station, the mayor avoids holding his event in the front of the police services center in public, but behind lock and key.
Members of the media in Chattanooga gather Friday at the police services center on Amnicola Highway and all are allowed into the inner sanctum of the police department — except one.
The reporter with the CBS radio news affiliate is not allowed in because it is “a media-only event,” insists spokesman Rob Simmons.
“You are not considered a member of the media as a matter of departmental policy,” Mr. Simmons tells this reporter, as the mayor fears he will ask questions. The listener of the David Tulis show and other programs on Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM will learn about the event by watching TV stations 3, 9 or 12, Mr. Simmons says.
Prospect for reform?
It remains to be seen if Mr. Berke’s concern with saving American lives from police violence is mere political verbiage, or part of a serious change of thinking inspired by national demands for reform. As against this interest, Mr. Roddy appears to be part of the militarization of policing that has been long in the making, at least since the creation of SWAT (“special weapons attack team” in the original usage) units in Los Angeles in 1967. It is difficult, if a man is long a team player, to make a major shakeup in Chattanooga of the kind being implemented in other cities such as Camden, N.J., and Seattle.
But it appears possible that Mr. Berke may encourage bold, life-saving training improvements and demand respect for civil and constitutional rights of the citizens.
Serious reform in the Chattanooga police department would shift police training toward treating with the citizenry rather than engaging in gunbattles, tasings and knockdowns. It would avoid all the cop commonplaces about risk to the officer, shifting away from lines in the sand and kill zones to value every human life as made in God’s image. U.S. police departments give more than 100 hours’ training on weapons and defensive tactics, but 16 hours on de-escalation and crisis intervention.
The Chattanooga police department also, in commercial enforcement against highway traffic, is slack on reading Miranda rights to those arrested. That is to say, to everyone whom it stops. When a cop car turns on its lights in a traffic stop, that is an arrest (State v. Garcia, 123 S.W.3d 335, Tenn. 2003, “Upon turning on the blue lights of a vehicle a police officer has clearly initiated a stop and has seized the subject of the stop within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and Tenn. Const. Art. 1, § 7.” See Tennessee Juriprudence, arrest).
In one alarming trend, the city operates police vehicles disguised as passenger cars in traffic stops without clear legal authority. This Chattanooga story is developing.
Sources: Chuck Wexler, 30 Guiding Principles on Use of Force, Police Executive Research Forum, May 2016