published Saturday, April 26th, 2014

New police chief has vision, Chattanooga has new future

  • photo
    Fred Fletcher is Mayor Andy Berke's choice to be Chattanooga's new police chief.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Chattanooga has a new opportunity, and it is decades overdue. The city has a new police chief whose record and demeanor are impressive.

Fred Fletcher, 46, is presently a commander of a region in Austin, Texas, comparable to the size of Chattanooga. He will start to work here likely in June.

"My task is to help the community be safer," he says plainly.

And he will do that by working to mend the community's broken trust and by building on the city's already promising violence reduction initiative.

He faces a challenge: Chattanooga is among the nation's most violent cities, and tops the list for aggravated assaults -- much of it garnered in the inner city where poverty is high and racial distrust is higher.

Fletcher's history indicates he is up for the contest: The segment of Austin where he recently oversaw law enforcement is a large swath of East Austin known for its decades-old, open-air drug market once dubbed "a mall for addicts." During his tenure, the area reported a 14 percent decrease in violent crime and a 9 percent decrease in property crime from 2012 to 2013. He says that work was accomplished by building community trust and using strong police investigations. Those two elements helped him -- and his officers -- build cases.

They didn't just prosecute everything that moved. They used techniques from the High Point, N.C., program that Chattanooga's violence reduction program is adapted from. They used some of the cases they developed as leverage to help people and the community. They offered people suspected of low-level offenses the opportunity to seek help and change their ways in lieu of criminal charges.

"The successes I've had [in Austin] were not mine. They were the successes of the community after they learned to trust their full-time public safety representatives again," Fletcher said Friday.

He believes that's possible here.

"This community cares about itself," he said. "And tangible results will breed trust and success. Especially when you do it in a manner that is appreciative of people's differences and people's rights."

Fletcher brings tools to the Chattanooga police chief's office in a combination that we've not had before. He's young, as was former chief Bobby Dodd; he has broader out-of-Chattanooga experience, as did former chief Jimmie Dotson; and he has an analytical and data-driven method of looking for ways to improve public safety.

With a bachelor's degree in accounting, the 20-year cop jokingly refers to himself as a "recovering accountant." He also sees tremendous value in technology. Like his belief in community trust, those are mindsets that have been sorely missing here in the past.

Austin activist Del Goss says, "Chattanooga is very lucky, and Austin is very unlucky."

Goss tells a story about riding through his Austin neighborhood with Fletcher soon after their first meeting.

"He would say, 'Stop, here.' And he would get out and introduce himself to people on the street. He played basketball with kids. He introduced himself to some people I would have been afraid of," Goss said. "He is intelligent, compassionate and just a [darn] good cop."

Fletcher sees Chattanooga's department -- with 55 percent of the force having less than 10 years of experience and about two-thirds having less than 14 years experience -- as being "youthful" and moldable. Across the police industry, the newer officers are coming with different degrees and backgrounds, such as social work, lawyering and human resources.

"They're young and talented and diverse. They are a tremendous resource. What they need [here] is a skilled and experienced leader," Fletcher said.

Across the table, Mayor Andy Berke smiled.

That's what he says he saw -- skill, experience and community knowhow-- when he chose Fletcher as the new police chief.

Here's to the future.

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RShultz210 said...

Here's to the future huh? Does this future include him reining in the Gestapo? Stopping the beatings, the unnecessary use of batons to break people's bones, the use of TASERs and pepper spray when they are not called for? The continual violations of the UN Convention Against The Use Of Torture? The total lack of respect that these Neanderthals he graciously chooses to call police officers show the citizens of this city? Is he going to hire more berserkers like Emmer and Cooley? How about answering all THESE questions there Fred? The ones that didn't get asked at your welcome to Auschwitz On The Tennessee party?

April 26, 2014 at 6:11 p.m.
TirnaNOG said...

Mr. Shultz, that's what I have been waiting to hear too. The lack of police accountability when one of their own go rogue. The policies in place that have made them basically untouchable and unaccountable no matter what they're caught doing. The policies that have basically allowed them to run roughshod in these communities that have so harmed both the communities and the citizens that so many were so quick to label dangerous without all the weighing all the facts that inspired much of the crime and made them dangerous in the first place. That is rogue cops basically going in doing what they want and, as one once said when asked why BECAUSE WE CAN!" or We're cops! We can do anything we want" and I guess to he*ll with the rest of us.

Noticed, none of the local news outlets even briefly touched on this subject. Which is really the backbone of most all and everything that went wrong in many of these "hotspots" in Chattanooga and around the nation.

Remember: 1. Lack of police accountability 2. Bad policies 3. Bad policing 4. Weeding out the rogues before they're even signed on to become police. 5. Ridding the department of the rogues who are still there. Those are the keys to making these communities and the city safe. But it seems no reporter was willing to ask any pertinent questions. Maybe because they don't want the answer. They want to lay everything at the feet of crime and criminals without acknowledging a third, fourth and maybe fifth, sixth and so element thrown in.

Not to say this chief can't be good for Chattanooga, but Chattanooga needs to be honest with itself, and so does the CPD.

April 26, 2014 at 9:06 p.m.
RShultz210 said...

Well we will just have to see what happens I guess. The five boils on the collective butt of the Geheim Staats Polizai that you have so aptly described will just have to be lanced and drained no matter how painful it is. Since the citizens were allowed no input in the process, we will just have to wait and see if Herr Fletcher has the cajones to make it happen. Maybe we should help Mr. Fletcher with a little information. So just in case you don't have a good grip on what torture is for example, maybe we can help. ... "For the purposes of the UN Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as intimidating or coercing him." Like spraying a foreign substance in his face that inflicts severe burns and extreme pain, or blasting a person with 50,000 volts at 19 Hz/Sec for the same purpose. These shenanigens have to stop or sooner or later the whole situation will deteriorate into armed confrontations like we are seeing out west. As TirnaNOG said, none of the so-called reporters at the news media outlets had the courage to ask any of the questions I have posed. We need to hear answers from SOMEONE.

April 26, 2014 at 10:26 p.m.
Salsa said...

wah,wah wah.

April 27, 2014 at 4:26 p.m.
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