published Monday, April 11th, 2011

Officer slaying affects regional departments

After a Chattanooga officer was shot to death during an armed robbery April 2, some area police officials say they might not have been prepared to handle a similar situation.

“We live in a small town. A lot of people equate it with Mayberry or a step up from it ... and you can let your guard down,” said LaFayette, Ga., police Sgt. Stacey Meeks. “Unfortunately, it takes something bad like this to really wake people up.”

Police across the region grieved with their Chattanooga brothers and sisters over the death of Sgt. Tim Chapin, who was buried Thursday. But some also are looking internally and evaluating how to better protect themselves.

Last week, LaFayette police visited most of the city’s banks, jewelry stores and pawnshops, talking about how officers and owners should respond if the silent alarm is tripped during an armed robbery.

Most of the time when police respond to calls in LaFayette, it’s a false alarm, Meeks said, and over time that can make officers complacent.

The department is working on a better response plan to coordinate business and police response in case of an incident, Meeks said. On a silent alarm, for instance, police wouldn’t come rushing in with sirens blaring, he said.

Chickamauga, Ga., Police Chief Michael Haney said he urges his officers to wear bulletproof vests whenever they are out patrolling. Now Haney said he’s been preaching to his officers to be more careful on calls and to treat every stop seriously.

“I worry every night about them,” he said. “It’s something that stays on your mind quite a bit lately.”

LaFayette Public Safety Director Tommy Freeman said that whenever there is any kind of tragedy within a police agency, he takes a look at his department’s policies to see if any improvements can be made.

LaFayette police are going to be trading in some older weapons so every patrol car can be equipped with an assault rifle, Freeman said.

But even with better equipment and more training, not every situation can be predicted.

“Sometimes I think you can do everything right and it still goes wrong,” Meeks said. “You cannot prepare yourself for every scenario.”

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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