By Lauren Gregory, Staff Writer
Chattanooga police officials announced a new round of promotions that includes more minorities than the last promotional cycle, after which Police Chief Freeman Cooper was criticized publicly for failing to protect black officers’ interests.
But Chief Cooper said the fact that 10 out of 19 officers receiving new ranks today are black, Hispanic or female — as compared to three out of 11 promoted in September — is largely coincidence rather than a response to any critique.
“It just so happens that the choices being made in this process (led to minority promotions),” he said. “Minorities are always considered, but not singled out. I’ve never been part of a discussion in this department in which a person was chosen for a position just because they were a minority.”
The chief had received flak from City Councilman Leamon Pierce during a disciplinary appeal hearing in December for Sgt. Derrick Stewart, president of the Chattanooga chapter of the National Black Police Officers Association.
During the hearing, Mr. Pierce supported restoring Sgt. Stewart’s rank, which had been reduced to patrolman after he allegedly made derogatory remarks about women in the department.
Mr. Pierce noted how difficult it has been for the department to recruit minority officers, and that very few are in higher-ranking leadership roles.
“Sometimes, we forget where we come from and how we got there,” Mr. Pierce said, directing the comment to Chief Cooper.
The remark was met with a chorus of “Amen” from the audience, which included a large group of black officers.
Mr. Pierce declined to comment further on the issue when contacted Thursday.
Sgt. Stewart said he did not want to comment on Mr. Pierce’s statements either, but noted that neither he nor any officers he knows would ever point fingers at the chief.
“I wouldn’t ask for Chief Cooper to take care of the minorities. ... No one’s asking (for that),” Sgt. Stewart said.
“I’m very happy with this promotion cycle,” he said. “Black, white, whatever, there were some good officers that got promoted.”
He said he believes the large number of promotions given to white male officers in the past has to do with the fact that the department has more white males qualified for those positions.
“If you don’t have a lot of diversity to pick from, then it obviously starts reflecting,” Sgt. Stewart said.
Chief Cooper said that the department has “never been able to recruit to the degree we would hope as far as minorities.”
Department officials have been striving to get the racial makeup of the department to match that of the community, he said, but they have far to go, as the city is about 35 percent black and the department has hovered around 20 percent to 21 percent.
For that reason, he said, race and gender are “always in the decision-making process for the administration.”
Sgt. Tom McKinney, a white officer who was passed over for a promotion, said he worries those factors, along with personal preference of administrators, could affect the objectiveness of the promotion process.
“It seems like it’s gone to simply an appointment process,” Sgt. McKinney said.
But Chief Cooper said department officials “don’t look at a person’s skin color to decide assignments. ... A person has to be qualified to do the job, whether or not they are a minority.”
Lieutenant to captain:
* Susan Blaine
* Randy Dunn
* Tommy Kennedy
Sergeant to lieutenant:
* Corliss Cooper
* Nealie Hogg
* Danna Vaughn
* Tommy Woods
Officer to sergeant:
* Scott Avila
* Scott Bales
* Tammy Cook
* Anthony Easter
* Jeff Gaines
* Austin Garrett
* Jason Irvin
* Evander Lloyd
* Chris Phillips
* Jeff Rearden
* Mark Smeltzer
* Rodney Thompson