Major shakeup in city's gang unit as all officers request transfers
Multiple sources at Chattanooga Police Department confirm that 11 members of the Street Crimes Response Team, tasked with carrying out the mayor’s Violence Reduction Initiative, have requested transfers this month.
The last day for them will be Oct. 30. Members submitted transfer requests, all asking for patrol assignments. Several other members were asked to leave the unit, according to sources.
“According to the transfer requests, all stated personal or professional reasons,” said Chattanooga Police Deputy Chief David Roddy.
On Friday, a flier showing “several” openings was posted for the unit with a deadline to apply by Oct. 29.
One source said tensions had been building for a while and another said that officers disagreed with the administration on how to address crime issues. Three sources within the department asked to stay anonymous for this article.
As a result, the mass exodus was done to show a “vote of no confidence” in Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher’s administration, according to a source.
A source at the department said instead officers were being asked to address quality of life issues for offenders rather than focusing solely on enforcement.
Many changes have been made to the department under Fletcher’s administration. A total of 170 changes with some big and some small – to be exact, Roddy said by phone Friday afternoon.
Members in Street Crimes were told to dress in uniform rather than wear cargo pants with tactical vests over T shirts as they had for years. The hope was that they would be more approachable to the general public.
The name of the unit changed from the Crime Suppression Unit to the Street Crimes Response Team. Part of those changes included officers being encouraged to focus on quality of life issues rather than traditional law enforcement, he confirmed.
“Some individuals in Street Crimes may not have felt like that was their strength,” Roddy said. “We have people who want to be in those roles. We want to give [unit members] an opportunity to be happy and healthy in other roles.”
A circular advertising the job postings obtained by Channel 3 reads, “The investigator must be able to transition between the enforcement arm of VRI and a concerned member of the department throughout the shift.”
The circular states officers applying for the positions must have three years of experience and will be required to make Power Point presentations as part of the interview process.
“Focus should be on how Street Crimes Response Team can utilize focus deterrence to support the VRI, decrease violent crime and apply it to other quality of life initiatives within the Chattanooga Police Department,” the circular reads.
The departure of members comes as many continue to call into question the effectiveness of Mayor Andy Berke’s anti-violence initiative based on Criminologist David Kennedy’s focused deterrence principles.
“It’s the Mayor’s understanding that there are some employees who want to transfer to other units and Chattanooga Police Department is working to accommodate their requests, ensuring the best person for the job in every position,” said Lacie Stone, spokesperson for the mayor’s office. “It is also our understanding that there has already been significant interest from other officers within the department in filling the vacancies created from these transfers.”
Stone went on to say that Berke has complete trust in Fletcher’s vision for the police department.
Roddy contended that overall violence is down in the city. The latest shooting numbers don’t show less bloodshed though.
As of Oct. 12, there were 100 shootings with 120 victims – the highest number of shootings the city has had in a three year period year to date.
For the same time period in 2014, there were 88 shootings with 98 victims. In 2013 -- the year before the anti-crime initiative started – there were 97 shootings with 114 victims during the same time period, records show. In 2012, there were 76 shootings and 91 victims.
Sgt. Rusty Morrison, who has worked as a supervisor for the unit, was recently asked to leave as well as many as four other unit members, according to sources. Morrison declined to comment when reached by phone.
Sgt. Danny Jones, who did not submit a transfer request, chose to remain in the unit working in the field, according to sources.
When reached by phone Thursday, Jones said not all members transferred out, but confirmed that some did. He would not say who left or how many.
“We’ve got people left,” he said.
The unit recently started allowing patrol officers to come on board for 60 day periods to undergo training with the unit before returning back to patrol.
Sgt. Josh May, who was with the unit for many years, recently was named focused deterrence coordinator. When asked about the transfers, May said, “I haven’t heard that, but then again I’m in meetings 87 percent of my day.”
He said the unit is considered a “go to” unit that is able to assist other units across the board and downplayed its close association with the Violence Reduction Initiative.
When asked if the unit was instrumental to the Violence Reduction Initiative, he said, “Every officer is instrumental the VRI.”
The mass departure is the latest disruption in the city’s anti-crime initiative.
Less than a year ago, former Lt. Todd Royval, who oversaw the unit for many years and was instrumental in forming it, abruptly quit his job. He left the police department citing a “new job with better opportunities,” even though internal sources said there was a volatile disagreement between him and Fletcher.
The unit was created in 2007 while Freeman Cooper was police chief. It was formed to respond to gang violence and combat crime trends. The unit later tripled in size under the leadership of former Police Chief Bobby Dodd, going to 30 members before he retired in 2013.