UPDATE: Chattanooga officers with take home cars will only pay costs beyond city limit
UPDATE: Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke announced a new policy change within the police department Monday, effective immediately.
He's giving officers a break on the city's take home vehicle policy in an effort to boost morale and public safety.
Berke's move is undoing a policy set by former mayor Ron Littlefield a few years ago. Chattanooga's Fraternal Order of Police say Monday's change is a step in the right direction.
"It's not the end all be all answer to all the issues, but it's a shot in the arm for morale," said Chattanooga FOP President Sgt. Toby Hewitt. He said things are looking up for CPD officers.
Mayor Berke announced Monday that all officers who drive take home cars will pay only costs accrued beyond city limits.
The old policy required officers who live outside the city to pay all the costs. For some officers, that bill is up to $250 a month.
"This policy has been unreasonable. It has cost our police officers thousands of dollars a year, and it's an example of when you don't act by consensus," Berke said.
He said this move isn't just for CPD officers. The public will also see the benefit.
"Having officers taking their police cars home, especially at shift change, just statistically it doubles the presence of police officers on the street," Hewitt said.
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said the number of officers using take home cars dropped from 200 to 90 when the policy first changed a couple of years ago.
While FOP leaders see this as a small victory, they said there are still issues with police pensions and benefits.
"There are some pay issues that need to be addressed, and we're looking for long term, down the road, certainly toward the end of my career, and we have newer officers coming up in their career. We want to make sure their benefits are there," Hewitt said.
Berke also announced on Monday a task force to look at that problem.
"This is something that you want to address before the crisis escalates beyond repair," Berke said.
He expects to hear recommendations from that task force by the end of the year.
Mayor Berke announced Monday that Chattanooga police officers will be able to take home their patrol cars at no extra cost.
Around 90 officers use take home cars.
Berke says the officers will only pay for costs accrued beyond city limits. Previously, officers paid for all costs.
"For months, I have been in discussions with our police officers, and the leaders of various organizations and departments. They have all told me the same thing – this is a real issue that has a real impact on officer moral and community safety," said Mayor Berke. "The existing Take Home Car Policy was overly burdensome on officers by charging them even when driving within the city limits. This new initiative will boost officer morale, and balance the need to have motivated officers with our duty to use taxpayer dollars in the most effective way possible.
Chief Bobby Dodd says the new policy will not only build morale in the department but is also good for the public.
"Not only is the change in take-home cars good for an officer from morale and financial standpoints, but it's good for the public. Having more police cars on the street increases our presence in the community and positively impacts public safety," said Police Chief Bobby Dodd.
Berke says his administration puts public safety first and his policies "will ensure public safety employees have long careers with the city and receive the benefits they earn while using taxpayer dollars in the most responsible way possible."