Part 2: Requests for information prompt policy change at police - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Part 2: Requests for information prompt policy change at police department

CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - This is the second part in a 3 Investigates series. The team filed more than a dozen Tennessee Open Records Act requests for records as part of the investigation. The investigation exposed a lack of checks at both the state and local level. Chattanooga Police Department ultimately changed its policy on background checks for officers. 

Chattanooga police have enacted a policy that requires officers to undergo routine background checks, following a 3 Investigates special report into an officer who drove for more than a year on a revoked driver's license.

“Officers are obligated to take care of their own business. If I find that an officer willfully or knowingly violates a significant law, then they'll be held accountable for that,” said Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher.

The issue came to light after Officer Lee Mayweather drove a city issued patrol car for 20 months without a valid drivers license.

“In this particular instance, I was told by my predecessors that they had investigated the case and the officer had done this unknowingly,” said Fletcher, who was not in office when the incident occurred.

Among the drivers getting ticketed were 82-year-old Harry Swanger.

At the time, Mayweather was driving a patrol car on a revoked license due to non-payment of child support.  

“I can't comprehend that because his superiors should have known,” Swanger said.

3 Investigates requested all patrol officers' driver's license numbers. After the city initially declined our request citing officer safety concerns, the city attorney's office turned over the driver's license numbers for more than 200 city patrol officers.

An independent check by 3 Investigates through the Department of Safety and Homeland Security showed Mayweather was the only officer with an invalid driver's license in recent years.

While Mayweather's case was an isolated incident, and not that serious, it highlighted the department's lack of oversight of police officers.  Department officials had no idea whether any of their officers had valid driver's licenses as well as any pending wants and warrants. 

Fletcher is hoping a new policy will prevent situations like this one in the future. At the very least, the department will now have checks in place.

“I'm certainly aware how it looks. That's why we took direct immediate action,” he said.

The policy went into effect July 23, more than three months after 3 Investigates began requesting information.

READ MORE | CPD's Inspection Policy

Before the policy change, officers had to routinely undergo a monthly inspection that included the appearance of their uniform as well as presenting their driver's license to supervisors.

Supervisors did not run the license through a state records check. Supervisors only checked the date on the card for expiration.

“We had a protocol in place to physically check and inspect drivers licenses. That doesn't tell us if the license is currently active,” Fletcher said.

Now officers will undergo an annual background check the month before their birthday, Fletcher said. The check will go beyond confirming if officers have a valid license.

“We're going to have an administrative assistant run their driver's license for currency.
We're also going to run them for wants and warrants.”

- CPD Chief Fred Fletcher

Most police departments run background checks on cadets entering the police academy. The checks stop once officers don a badge and uniform though.

“Police departments do not routinely run background checks on their employees, they test the employees on various integrity related issues, like use of drugs for example but do not, usually go beyond this,” said Maki Haberfeld, professor and chair of the Department of Law and Police Science at John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York. “I would personally view this as a poor leadership move.”

Fletcher said he has not had any negative feedback due to the policy change.

“Officers generally appreciate processes that help them help themselves and which hold each other accountable,” he said.
Haberfeld said officers within the department might perceive the checks as the administration not trusting them.

“Why not have such background checks for other professions – starting with our politicians,” she said.

If you know of an issue you want our 3 Investigates team to look into, email Send us an email with an explanation of your story idea. Include documents and sources for more research. Your tip can remain anonymous.
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