Under Mayor Andy Berke, crime fighting and public safety in Chattanooga will be a joint effort.
Berke unveiled the outline of his public safety strategy Friday and announced that he has asked Police Chief Bobby Dodd to stay on as head of the city department.
The mayor said he and his team brought together ideas from within the community and across the country to come up with a comprehensive public safety plan.
"Our streets are too dangerous. We have to make them safer," Berke said in an interview Friday. "These strategies will help us bring the best policies and procedures from across the country, tailor them to Chattanooga and help us make a measurable impact."
And after "numerous conversations" with the chief in recent weeks, Berke said, "I have no doubt Chief Dodd is the right leader to help us as we start this implementation."
Dodd said he supports the mayor's vision for Chattanooga.
"I look forward to continuing to work with him and his team," he wrote in an email.
Sgt. Craig Joel, vice president of the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, was more effusive. The FOP supported Berke for mayor.
"Policing is a very familial organization, and the chief serves as a father figure. We've been living in limbo, not knowing who 'dad' is going to be," Joel said. "We're extremely grateful this issue has been put to rest and we can move forward."
Joel said Dodd is "an extremely strong personality and a very strong chief."
"Chief Dodd started as a street cop. He worked in almost every unit and division. And more important, he has proven himself over the last three years," Joel said.
Speaking at the Leadership Chattanooga graduation Friday, Berke said public safety, education and economic development are connected to each other.
"It's difficult to get an excellent education if your street is too dangerous to walk to school," he said.
Berke ticked off three initiatives that he called the first phase of his public safety plan:
• Naming a Public Safety Council that will include himself, County Mayor Jim Coppinger, Dodd, Sheriff Jim Hammond, District Attorney Bill Cox and U.S. Attorney Bill Killian.
"When we bring the leaders together, we can address policing, prosecution, punishment and prevention," Berke said in the interview.
Asked whether the council would take up the work of the former gang task force, he said, "We have too much gang violence in our city. I would expect one of the public safety council's issues will be how we address that problem specifically. It's certainly not the only issue we're going to be addressing, however."
• Conducting an "exhaustive study" of the Chattanooga Police Department for evaluation and best practices. He said the International Association of Chiefs of Police will do the study, which could take six months, with a goal of developing the right strategies and deploying officers for maximum efficiency and results.
• Developing an online Crime Scorecard to assemble and measure crime data so it can be a tool.
"Our police officers do a great job of what we ask them to do. Let's make sure that we're pointing them in the right direction," Berke said in the interview.
The Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Berke in the mayor's race, and Joel said the rank and file support his plans.
"We absolutely welcome an outside inspection to try and fix the things we simply have not been allowed to fix for so long," Joel said.
"In the prior administration, every day was a mystery and a reinvention of itself. Mayor Berke's administration is night and day in comparison," he said. "... The adversarial relationship is clearly behind us and we can start moving forward."
Staff writers Beth Burger and Mike Pare contributed to this report.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416. Subscribe to Judy on Facebook at Facebook.com/JudyCTFP.
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...