Sheriff clarifies count, cut of officers in schools - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

School Patrol: Sheriff clarifies count, cut of officers in schools

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- Hamilton County Deputies Tim Mann and T. J. Pickens speak from experience.

Each has served as a Resource Officer, Mann at Red Bank, Pickens at Sale Creek, for a number of years.

"I don't think you have a gang problem at a school if you don't let it stay here," Deputy Mann says.

"We nip a lot of problems in the bud that never require calling in an officer from the outside," Deputy Pickens told Channel 3 back in May.

Red Bank's new principal, Dr. Justin Robertson, appreciates that.

"The biggest thing for us in the school is that we just need to know that we've got support."

Sheriff Jim Hammond insists his commitment to the Resource Officer program hasn't wavered, though two fewer schools will have such officers this year, compared to last. The corps has four fewer officers than three years ago.

"Nobody was literally pulled, because I said, 'I'm gonna shut down this school'," Sheriff Hammond says. "Except this year."

Hammond maintains that the number of students and the number of incidents no longer justify keeping a Resource Officer at Washington Alternative School, nor replacing the officer who departed Ooltewah Middle School last Spring.

School Board Chairman Mike Evatt has suggested that Ooltewah Middle School is close enough to East Hamilton Middle & High School to justify transferring one of East Hamilton's two officers to cover Ooltewah Middle.

"If East Hamilton has trouble, Ooltewah Middle School's officer could be there like that," Evatt told Channel 3 in a telephone interview Tuesday.

"East Hamilton has a combined 2100 students," Hammond responds. "Ooltewah Middle has 800. It (not filling the vacancy) was a 'no brainer'."

Sequoyah High School hasn't had a Resource Officer since its deputy transferred to Soddy-Daisy High School three years ago.

Lookout Valley's officer hasn't been replaced since leaving a year-and-a-half ago.

"Those officers, or at least those slots, are now back on the road where they originally were, and were supposed to be," Hammond says.

"I don't think there should be any cut," County Commission Finance Chairman Fred Skillern says.

Tuesday, Skillern told Channel 3 that he considered the officer transfers as Sheriff Hammond's 'payback'  for Commissioner's denying his call for a budget increase in the fiscal year that began in July.

"I'm not gonna say that unless I know the details," Skillern says. "If he's not cutting the ones we fund, it's someone else's ball game."

County Commissioners did fund all four positions vacated since 2009.

Four of the 22-members remaining in the School Resource Officer corps aren't part of the Sheriff's Department; two are Chattanooga Police officers, another is a Signal Mountain officer, and the fourth is an East Ridge officer.

The Sheriff's budget covers sixteen of the remaining 18; fourteen deputies and two supervisors.

The Hamilton County Department of Education pays the salaries of the two remaining deputies.

"We can't bring back any of the Resource Officers we've lost unless we can hire more people," Sheriff Hammond says. "I'm not pulling any position out of patrol."

"I've never heard any of that from the School Board or the Sheriff," Skillern says. "I understand he's met with most of the Commissioners, but he's never called me."

"Commissioner Skillern has not called me asking for information," Sheriff Hammond says. "Not the first time."

"He (Hammond) can come see me," Skillern says. "After this Commission meeting, I'm going back to my District."

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