Our city is becoming a crime scene.
And it’s not even summertime yet.
“Whenever we have more outdoor activity, there is an increase in problems that happen,” said Sgt. Jerri Weary, police spokeswoman.
And as the violence increases — which it will — our city government continues to nickel-and-dime the one resource most needed in Chattanooga right now:
The police who protect the public.
Here are three ways to correct this.
First, the city and county governments should pass an ordinance that exempts all police officers from paying property taxes every year. We gave away the farm for Volkswagen, offering the largest tax-break incentive — estimated at $577 million — ever given to an automotive corporation.
Do the same thing for police officers. Exempting property taxes for city and county officers will attract the best and brightest to our city, which is the exact same principle the city follows to attract businesses.
After all, how many businesses will continue to relocate here as the streets turn more and more violent?
Second, give all police officers their cars back.
Near the end of last year, the mayor and City Council ended a longstanding policy of allowing police officers to drive their patrol cars home. Looking to cut costs, the government instituted a rate-per-mile policy, which would result in most officers leaving their patrol cars in one of two official parking lots as they go to and from work.
This is the way we treat mall cops, not law enforcement officers. Under this absurd policy, I’ve heard of police officers having to drive by a crime scene in their personal cars to reach the patrol car parking lot, where they then speed back to the same crime scene they just passed.
Isolating all patrol cars in two centralized locations is small-minded, making them vulnerable to flooding, disaster or vandalism, and the two-lot scenario creates the one situation any security adviser will warn against: all your resources in one area. Even more, the lots will cost about $20,000 a year to maintain, in fencing, security cameras and more.
The city budget is estimated at $182 million this year, and the savings with such a rate-per-mile policy barely makes a dent.
Yet the greater blow here is to morale.
The average — not starting — salary of a police officer in the city is $38,977.72.
The current combined salary of the mayor ($146,607), his chief of staff ($119,709), his deputy ($92,881) and media relations ($60,000) is $419,197.
With such mathematics, four police officers barely exceed the salary of the mayor, yet I would bet my last dollar that when bullets fly in Coolidge Park or elsewhere, the mayor is not called to come defend the lives of the public.
Yet the mayor and council decided to remove patrol cars — citing budget concerns — while in December adding a $4,800 salary increase for six other top-level city employees in Chattanooga, each of whom already earns more than $100,000.
The third solution: We need a mayor and council that remember in a democracy, they function as servants and representatives of the people, not top-hat bosses whose feet don’t touch the streets they claim to govern.
Is that possible for this mayor and council?
The police are not perfect, and our city has issues with abuses of authority and power. Yet the larger issue here is one of fairness and justice.
Every time I talk with police officers in this city, it is as if I am given access to another version of Chattanooga — the exact opposite of the one promoted by tourism brochures — where children are prostituted by their parents for drugs, 29-year-olds are grandmothers and meth addicts pick their own scabs to get high.
Like gatekeepers, these police are possessors of images and stories that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
And each time I listen to these stories, I’m reminded that if you were to create a society from scratch, it would seem that the police — along with teachers and doctors — would be some of your most valued citizens.
“This is the sort of day we hope will never come, but it does,” said Mayor Littlefield in the hours following the death of Sgt. Tim Chapin. “We appreciate his sacrifice.”
David Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.