In less than a week, Chattanooga’s police chief turns in his badge, after an eventful three years. Fred Fletcher brought massive change to the department, and guided his officers through gang violence, and a terror attack. Now he looks ahead at what is next for him, and the Chattanooga Police Department.
Fletcher, who describes himself as "not a desk person," has been the very public face of the Chattanooga Police Department since 2014, through good times and bad. It is not unusual to see him on the streets, working a beat, or serving at the Riverbend Festival. "I wouldn’t ask officers to do anything I wouldn’t do," Fletcher said.
Fletcher says he awakens each morning at 4 a.m., with no alarm clock. He finds out what happened overnight, and checks on the safety of his officers. His morning routine continues with strenuous exercise, including sunrise bike rides up Raccoon Mountain.
At 49, Fletcher surprised many, inside and outside the department when he announced in April that he was leaving the city. While his energy seems to have no bounds, he admits the pressure of the job has taken its toll. "It's not the years, it's the miles," Fletcher said. "Those who have never served in this position don't understand the toll it takes on your personal life."
During his brief tenure, he’s credited with introducing intelligence-led policing, allowing officers to use data and technology to track criminal patterns. He says they’re unable to predict crime, but can often prevent it before it happens. He’s added Crime Eye cameras to provide an extra set of eyes in high crime areas. But he’s most proud of the leadership programs he’s installed to boost his officer’s performance. "Our officers are all leaders," he said. "When there's an accident, or an incident, they're helping people recover. We want everyone from the cadets on up to be preparing for leadership positions."
Fletcher says he understands the public’s perception of a losing battle against gang violence, but he says he’s seeing progress, and a decades-long problem cannot be solved overnight. "When I came, we brought in new anti-violence programs, and when I leave, there will be new programs. It's a natural transition. Whoever takes this job will do things differently from what I've done, and they'll do it better. That's how it's supposed to work."
He says his most vivid memory will always be that of July 16, 2015, when he got the first call that a terrorist had attacked five Chattanooga servicemen. "I couldn't be any prouder of our officers who responded to that situation. The same could be said for the 2015 I-75 Ooltewah traffic crash that took six lives, and the 2016 Woodmore Elementary school bus crash." He said the tragedies were each difficult for him to deal with, and all of them had changed his life. "But I saw so many officers and emergency responders step up and do what they were trained to do, and they did it well," he said.
Fletcher also has nothing but praise for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who he says gave him total freedom. He says his departure is unrelated to a 2016 scandal involving the mayor, and accusations of an inappropriate relationship by the then-husband of a female staffer. Fletcher, as a friend of all three parties, was in an awkward position. "I'm leaving for personal reasons, and I can't say that any one incident is responsible. There's a season for everything, and it is time for me to do something different. I don't know what that will be, but even after I leave this city, I will still be very involved, because I have made some lifelong friends here."
He leaves the city with high praise for those with whom he has served. He says he’s humbled by total strangers who since his departure announcement, have asked him to reconsider. He’s proud of his accomplishments, and plans to have input in who succeeds him as chief. "I will have input, and I want input," he said. "We've set some good programs in place, and good leadership can make them even better."
He plans to remain active in some local charitable organizations. Forty-nine people have applied to succeed Chief Fletcher, and a replacement is expected to be announced during the next few weeks.