Hint of thaw among police, but reforms have much ground to cover

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David Roddy, Chattanooga police chief, talks with local residents at the graduation evening for the citizens police academy.
A city police officer leans on a podium, left, as protesters chant, “No justice, no peace” to protest Dec. 11 at city council a sheriff deputy’s beating of singer Charles “Interstate Tax” Toney. (Photo & video Facebook)

For all the grief that chief David Roddy takes from Chattanoogans critical of policing and demanding other improvements or reform, there is a sign of a thaw or a melting.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 92.7

And that is the orders he gave to the officers Dec. 11 assigned to maintain order at the city council meeting.

If there were not a spirit of grace in Chattanooga, and a measure of respect for the public among police brass at a moment of it being tested, there would have been a different reaction by the officers to the uproar and outrage and noise expressed at the city council meeting  by enraged residents.

The citizens were shouting their disapproval of the beating by the sheriff’s department of singer and family man, Charles “Interstate Tax” Toney. About 40 people participated in a protest, several waving posters of his image as published on his rap music CD.

One officer was lolling about the podium at which members of the public demonstrated after the session was adjourned. Cmdr. Danna Vaughan stood facing the public from beneath the dais, but hers was not a military-style barrier. That would had implied something of the police view of the public — as a danger and a threat.

The officers stood down. They were not alarmed at the seeming disorder, the threat against the rules of the council, the noise, the hectoring and  the clamor.

They did not stand in cordon to protect the city council members. They did not take stiff and defensive postures. No alarm marked the face of Cmdr. Vaughan and others.

That Chief Roddy had extra people present indicates his intelligence division was working and people would be gathering to protest police violence.

It is credit to Chief Roddy and his deputies that clear instructions were given about not making much of the protest  And not letting police bristles rise at First amendment protected public activity.

This calm response is a reflection of Chief Roddy’s understanding of the need to reform, and how the people, even in their anger, are not a threat to the personal well-being of city council members or to police.

Reform prospect: D+ to C-

The police department is very slow to take advantage of the good work of its officers, to highlight their mercies rather than their compulsions, their good deeds over their misdeeds. Those instances ranging from an officer’s changing a woman traveler’s tire to the one in which the cop refrains from killing someone whose death would meet justification under the cops’ license to kill law — these good deeds the department undersells and underreprots.

The David Tulis show is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

I told chief Roddy in an interview at the citizens police academy graduation event that I’m not “the enemy,” though I am a critic and police reform and abolition advocate. I said that the chief would be very good to his department and to my reader if he would keep us apprised of the good work of any officer whose example shows the direction of reform.

That is what the city awaits: Reform. If I could have reports of these good acts, I said to the chief, “that would encourage other officers to go and do likewise.” He said he understands and that he agrees. I’m waiting for word of these developments in a reform direction from Trevor Tomas and the elusive Elisa Myzal, his PR people, to fill my palette with colors.

The press serves a prophetic function. It is to praise the good and condemn the wicked. It is to hold up for admiration the obedient to the law and the one careful with the rights the people. It is to hold down for condemnation and judgment acts of gratuitous violence, lawlessness, thefts, beatings, slayings and other wrongs by city employees and others that deface the name and image of God by injuring His image bearers — which is to say, the average citizen of Tennessee and the average inhabitant of Chattanooga.

A reform chief

A reform chief would be a dissenter on many points of police practice and policy. He might be an outsider hired to come in and shake up the department. He would have a strong sense of ethics, of right and wrong, and oppose arbitrary and executive-style activity by officers. He would be extraordinarily cautious about offending the rights of the people by routine operations. He would detest military-style activity and gangsterism of the kind evidenced under former chief Fred Fletcher in the Hanson Melvin case. He would make changes in his first year to enhance training in de-escalation and de-militarization at the expense of training in shooting and the use of other forms of violence.

He would take to heart efforts to limit tort claims against his officers from the abuse of Tenn. Code Ann. Title 55 that he permits, as if somehow the law doesn’t matter and obedience to the law rightly yields to state judicial and executive policy. He would be willing to step outside the policing paradigm unchallenged up until 2014 and the Ferguson, Mo., riots.

Chief Roddy has been on the job since August 2017, and if he is the reformer implied in Mayor Berke’s speech, Mr. Roddy has gotten off to a slow, slow start.

Police reform in Chattanooga

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