Fletcher should chart own course
Fred Fletcher is expected to be approved today by the City Council as Chattanooga’s next police chief.
He was hand-picked by Mayor Andy Berke, as the city’s charter allows, and apparently has made a favorable impression on all those with whom he has met. Fluent in Spanish and well thought of in the black community in Austin, Texas, he also has been tabbed as a good listener and conciliator.
Fletcher should be able to come in, study how to move the Chattanooga Police Department forward and implement what he believes those steps may be.
At the same time, he need not adopt anyone’s to-do list.
When Joe Rowe, vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP, met with Fletcher, he gave him a list of ways in which the incoming police chief could improve relations between the community and the police, according to Times Free Press reporter Joy Luckachick.
That list included hiring more minority officers, training officers to better understand the community and stopping racial profiling.
• Fletcher, like Bobby Dodd before him and other police chiefs before that, will probably make a concerted effort to hire more minority officers. In a city where minorities make up about a third of the population, it behooves the police force to look somewhat like the people who live here.
But the former Austin police commander may be frustrated in his effort, like Dodd and others before him, because of a lack of candidates in general or because of the quality of the candidates specifically.
No police chief anywhere should feel compelled to hire unqualified candidates for the police department in order to achieve a percentage of a particular population or because a group or individual believes a need is there. If the candidates are there and they are worthy, he should hire them.
• It is the job of every police chief everywhere to train officers to better understand the community — the whole community. Little or nothing is more important than a good relationship between a police force and its community. It affords cooperation when there are crimes, understanding when difficult situations arise and education for both sides.
To understand the wider community, of course, Fletcher will need to understand individual communities: black, white, Latino, urban, suburban. To not do so would be his detriment. But for him to believe any particular community should take precedence also would be to his detriment.
• It would be interesting to hear any police chief answer the question in a news conference: “Does your department plan to stop racial profiling?” It’s akin to asking if you plan to stop beating your wife. Answer “yes,” and the follow-up is, “So you admit the department has been racial profiling?” Answer “no,” and the follow-up is, “So you say the department will continue racial profiling?”
Fletcher should not take the bait but should continue sound police principles that forbid stopping or confronting anyone because of their minority status but allow stopping or confronting anyone police are legitimately suspicious of. After all, is it racial profiling to stop only whites when the suspect in a particular crime is white?
The new police chief, instead, armed with the knowledge of what he’s learned about the city’s past, information he’s gleaned from listening and his experience in Austin, should chart his own course.
Aces in the classroom
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student-athletes compiled a school record 3.07 grade-point average for the just completed spring semester, exceeding the 3.0 mark for the first time in school history and setting a record GPA for the second straight semester.
Think about that. Including all players in all sports, the athletes’ average was better than a “B.” Nearly half of the 276 student-athletes (135) made the Dean’s List with a 3.2 GPA or higher. Meanwhile, 37 of them scored perfect 4.0 GPAs, including some of the top athletes in the school.
When you consider the athletes include people from out of state, out of country, junior college transfer students and traditional transfer students, and that they play a competitive sport (which always includes out of area travel), the record is even more remarkable.
Teachers, coaches, support staff and Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics David Blackburn deserve credit, too, for insisting on and providing a framework for the understanding that a student expected to excel on the field also is expected to excel in the classroom.