When Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke announced last month that he will add money to the police budget for more officers, police Chief Bobby Dodd said he would use 10 of the positions to augment the crime suppression unit.
Within a couple of weeks, a fake circular advertising for the jobs with the unit began to make its way around the police department.
“If you don’t have a resume yet that is okay we will accept your test scores from the Academy. Also, a statement of your interest in the position or lack of knowledge thereof must be attached,” the fake ad reads.
It’s unclear who created the satiric job description, but some in the department did not approve of Dodd’s decision to move 10 patrol officers with varying experience levels to the unit in March. Officers who spoke with the Times Free Press asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Dodd said the March additions are “on loan from the patrol division” and would be assigned to the unit as long as they are needed.
Of the officers filling those 10 “temporary” positions, four have less than three years’ experience, records show. A 2010 job posting for similar positions states applicants must have at least three years’ experience.
Of the core group of veteran officers now on the unit, none joined it with less than five years of experience.
Eugene O’Donnell, professor of criminal justice at John Jay School of Criminal Justice and former New York Police Department officer, said less-experienced officers often do not have the skills yet to investigate cases.
“It’s pretty much a given that investigative work is a certain skill set that you acquire over time,” he said.
The crime suppression unit was created in 2008 under former Chief Freeman Cooper to respond to gangs and emerging crime trends.
The critics argue that the unit has become a training ground for less-experienced officers, but Dodd said the unit can be deployed to tackle any kind of crime — not just gang activity.
“If we have car break-ins, burglaries, purse snatches, we can send them to certain areas,” the chief said.
O’Donnell said departments must take care when building special investigative units.
“It would obviously help if they had some sort of criteria and transparency internally … some sort of objective standards,” he said. “Time [of service] is not everything in police work, but there is a maturity factor.”
In New York, the police department added many junior officers to its street crimes unit. The unit gained international attention when officers shot and killed an unarmed man in the late 1990s.
“It’s generally acknowledged that was a mistake because they took people who probably shouldn’t have been in that assignment who didn’t have the knowledge or the skill set,” O’Donnell said.
Dodd said the unit is made of hardworking officers.
“They do more – I won’t say they do better work — but as far as the hours and the effort they put into that job, they do more than anyone else in the police department on average,” Dodd said.
The unit makes hundreds of gang contacts and averages 50 to 60 arrests a week.
“They interact with gang members daily,” he said.
The fake job description takes aim at Dodd’s figures by listing one of the daily job tasks as, “Keep a log of all parties that are observed standing in a high crime area and record this as your ‘gang contacts.’”
When Dodd became police chief in 2010, he doubled the size of the unit, to 20. He said the added officer positions will be spread across the city’s three sectors, as determined by Lt. Todd Royval, who can shift resources as needed.
The chief said he typically supports what his commanders recommend.
“I don’t micromanage it. I don’t second-guess it,” he said. “And if Lt. Royval comes up with a list of 10 and if they have between one year and 30 years, if he picks it, I’m fine with that. It’s … not only their abilities, but their willingness to work.”
Contact staff writer Beth Burger at email@example.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter twitter.com/abburger.