About 30 area residents enjoy a graduation ceremony overseen by police chief David Roddy and marking the end of another periodic effort by the Chattanooga department to make affinity with the people.
By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio
The citizens police academy shoots low, intending to “humanize” police in an era in which policing is viewed with increasing dislike and recruits are harder to win.
The agency with a budget of F$73 million dollars and 500 sworn police officers is under the government of Chief Roddy since August 2017 at which time Mayor Berke named him to lead the department in a reforming direction.
The chief reform, since the Ferguson uprising in August 2014 — and innumerable cop executions, beatings and assaults nationwide — is the paring back on force and increasing a desire to preserve human life and dignity.
“You chose time to take out of your days, time away from your family, your friends, your commitments, and gave it to us,” Mr. Roddy says. “That’s a big deal to us. We don’t take that lightly. I absolutely thank you for learning about us, but most importantly I thank you for your time.”
The audience, indeed, is willing to submit to numerous lectures about the department’s divisions and goals over nine weeks, a valuable openness the agency is eager not to let slip.
Roddy favorable to de-escalation reforms
In a brief conversation with Chief Roddy, I assure him of my desire to report more fully on the good deeds of officers as opposed to mistakes of officers. Chief Roddy says he wants the good highlighted and to avoid bad press.
My point is more nuanced, and I press it. My goal is police reform, as promised, albeit mildly, by Mayor Berke in August 2017 at Mr. Roddy’s hiring ceremony. To help bring that about, I want to hold up exemplars such as officer Jeffrey Abbott, who disarmed an angry, drunken man by cajolery, sympathy and wit. In earlier times, the cop would have gunned down the man and been upheld for having done so.
I had asked Rob Simmons, the public information officer, during an August 2017 leftist rally at Cooledge Park, to feed me stories about officers such as Mr. Abbott, so that I might highlight them and praise their work. But nothing came of the offer to help push the reform trajectory in favor of using time, space and cover to avoid old-guard “line in the sand” violent police work.
I invoke that mayoral speech and say I want my radio listener to desire reform, and to make the officer who hears the report to want to be part of it, to understand that he faces a rising expectation to preserve life and uphold respect for the citizen — that he use his mouth rather than his taser, that he treat with, converse with, persuade and win the citizen rather than bully or rush-and-punch him. Maybe the citizen won’t even end up arrested, I suggest.
As “the blogger with the biggest pen” in Chattanooga I wish to help the mayor fulfill the promise implied in that speech, I say to Mr. Roddy. Of all the press outlets that covered that event (from which I was deliberately denied access), mine was the only one that highlighted the most important point of the day. And that is that the mayor has named Mr. Roddy, a local son with Noogacentric roots, for a reform purpose even though often an outsider is better suited to shake up an institution.
Chief Roddy indicates he is of a very similar mind on the point of reform and de-escalation. I assure the heavily armed police boss that “I am not your enemy.” This despite the fact I criticize his agency and have put it under legal notice as to the limited scope of the state transportation statute. which it routinely ignores. Mr. Roddy says he has never considered me to be an enemy.
Reform as a long-term duty
➤ Reform comes up in a second conversation, this one with Officer David Lewis over a barbecue paper-plate dinner. He is a 22-year patrolman who works in community outreach with special interest in mentally handicapped, addicted and unstable people, who account for a third of the people in the county jail.
The press, we agree,, is a religious calling because it exposes deeds of men and is intended as a work of Christendom to bring long-term reform. The press hails the good and rips the bad. Its reports are inherently about moral issues, because law is morality externalized, and because the police function is intended to increase justice. I ask him if I have spoken amiss a any point, and he says no. Mr. Lewis gave the talk about crisis intervention training and the agency’s CIT team.
The quiet-spoken Mr. Lewis, who spent years patrolling Alton Park and Spencer McCallie homes, works at those points where police and the mentally ill meet. Much police violence occurs against people suffering psychological episodes, and Chief Roddy intends to halt injuring such people just as he wants sexually trafficked women and prostitutes not to be arrested, but to be helped by Love’s Arm and similar ministries, according to Marty Mauldin, an academy organizer in a speech.
➤ One class member is Richard Hall, who works at a foundry. He would like to be a police officer to serve people. Pressed as to why fewer people want to join the ranks, he says the reason is danger. I reply that danger is the reward in the job — danger is what makes it exciting and challenging, and does not discourage people from joining. Mr. Hall had been in training as a volunteer firefighter when seven years ago a bracket on a water hose blew apart, nearly killing him. He wonders why people volunteer to be firefighters, as he had been willing to do, but not cops.
➤ Cory Jefferson is the brother of Sgt. Wayne Jefferson, who runs the citizens academy with a bit of slapstick. The sergeant recruited Mr. Jefferson to play a role in the “shoot, don’t shoot” — that of a so-called sovereign citizen, bearing an AR-15-style rifle and insisting only sheriff’s deputies, not cops, have authority to address him. Mr. Jefferson says sovereign citizens are numerous in the area, but generally keep a low profile.
To get on the same high level of thinking of the alarming persona in the game-playing scenario, I suggested that police officers to have authority to use probable cause for arrests because Chief Roddy’s authority is delegated by the sheriff out “personal courtesy and respect” to the chief, who in fact exercises a common law power equal to that of any citizen (see citizen arrest power, Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-11-621)
Mr. Jefferson says sovereign citizens don’t like the government, believe that government has no authority over them except through their corporate persona they make every effort to shed, that the constitution is the law, that if a rule is not in the constitution it is not law, and that such citizens are aloof from government programs, benefits, controls and systems such as social security and employment.
Mr. Jefferson, in his sovereign citizen role, shot me in a hallway scenario. Neither in that encounter, nor in the traffic stop later that evening, did I touch my plastic weapon, and was twice slain. Traffic stops are the most deadly kind of public encounter that police officers face, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Sixty-three percent of cop slayings in self-initiated action are during transportation arrests.
Sgt. Jefferson tells the grads how to sign up for the police ride-along program. It’s at the city attorney’s website. They must submit to a background check.
Roddy lets Tulis graduate
David Roddy, chief of police, gives a diploma to radio reporter Tulis after nine sessions of the Chattanooga police department citizens academy, where residents learn about how the department enforces statute, solves crimes and maintains peace in Chattanooga. Thirty-six people graduated.