published Friday, June 6th, 2014

New police chief Fred Fletcher lays out vision for Chattanooga

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    Fred Fletcher, Chattanooga's new police chief, speaks with the media outside of the City Council room on May 13. Fletcher was a police commander from Austin, Texas.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith.
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Fletcher Employment Agreement-Executed
Fletcher Employment Agreement-Executed

Fred Fletcher will be sworn in as the next police chief Thursday, but already he has a vision for the Scenic City.

The 46-year-old former Austin Police Department commander wants to approach community policing by recognizing that each neighborhood in Chattanooga is different and that police should adjust to their surroundings, not the opposite.

"The focus on public safety in the Southside looks different than in North Chattanooga or Brainerd," Fletcher said.

Fletcher won't start work full time until June 25. His contract will be for a year and Mayor Andy Berke can renew the contract for three years. Under the City Charter, the mayor can't extend an appointment past the end of his term in office.

As chief, Fletcher will be paid $142,500, and the city has agreed to contribute 12.5 percent of his annual salary into a separate 401(k) retirement plan. If the city terminates the contract, Fletcher will be entitled to 90 days' severance pay.

While Fletcher will make $15,600 more than former Chief Bobby Dodd, who retired Dec. 31, Fletcher took a $2,000 pay cut and drained his savings to retire early in Austin so he didn't lose his 20-year pension there.

The last police chief to sign a contract was former Chief Jimmie Dotson, who was hired from Texas to lead the department in 1997. City Attorney Wade Hinton said Fletcher's contract is similar.

On April 24, Berke offered Fletcher the top police spot from an initial pool of 77 candidates recruited from across the country. Berke said then that Fletcher stood out because of his leadership skills, energy, desire to be a community leader and his experience reducing drug trafficking in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in Austin.

Since Fletcher was introduced to the public, he has gained overwhelming support from community leaders, police and the City Council.

Officials said Fletcher will take over the department at an opportune time, after some of the key factors that led to unrest within the ranks have been resolved.

Through the mayor's task force, leaders were able to preserve the police and fire departments' defined-benefit pension plan. In the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Berke has promised to fix the pay disparity that allowed officers to potentially make more money than their supervisors, said Sean O'Brien, president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.

"[Officers] are eager to take some leadership and tackle the problems the police face," O'Brien said. "There is a lot of excitement and anticipation."

Part of Fletcher's idea of community policing is sharing crime data with each neighborhood association and then working together on solutions to that area's challenges.

A spike in burglaries, for instance, shouldn't automatically trigger heavier patrols. Instead, Fletcher said, the community should be involved in figuring out what makes crime spike.

That's what he did in East Austin, and he said he has the numbers to back up that it works.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

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about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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