Mayor picks Texas commander to lead Chattanooga Police Department

Mayor picks Texas commander to lead Chattanooga Police Department

April 25th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

FRED FLETCHER

* Age: 46

* Family: Married

* Education: University of Texas graduate with a bachelor's degree in accounting

* Career: Became a sworn officer in 1994. Promoted through the ranks of Austin Police Department, serving as a detective, sergeant, lieutenant of special operations and in internal affairs. Promoted to a commander in 2012, overseeing a region with a population of 175,000.

* Results: From 2012-13 his region saw a 14 percent decrease in violent crime and a 9 percent decrease in property crime.

* Outside interests: Runner, cyclist

POLL: Do you approve of the mayor's choice for police chief?

Fred Fletcher, right, of Austin, Texas, is Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's pick as police chief.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

When Fred Fletcher became a commander in the Austin Police Department and saw a growing risk to bicyclists from cars on the road ignoring the law, he asked a rookie officer for advice.

Fletcher, who accepted the Chattanooga police chief position Thursday, said he doesn't believe he has all the answers - his idea of being a leader is to involve fellow officers and community leaders to find organic solutions to public safety.

Fletcher's question spawned a departmentwide bicycle safety program that he eventually presented at a statewide conference as a model for Texas.

"I don't like to presume I have solutions, because I really don't," he said. "I don't know Chattanooga yet and their problems, so I would like to learn that from the community."

On Thursday morning, Mayor Andy Berke said he offered Fletcher the $142,500-a-year position over two other finalists from an initial list of 77 candidates. Berke said 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, Texas.

"The community response I've heard about him has been overwhelming. If you were to put it on a decibel meter it would be deafening," Berke said. "When you want to see the community embrace our police department, having a leader that has proven he can became one with the people he serves is a great start."

As a 20-year veteran, Fletcher knows how to command respect and lead with a humility that other officers want to emulate, said Lt. Michael Eveleth, who worked under Fletcher in the Austin department. He said Fletcher soon will know every officer's name in the Chattanooga Police Department and will earn the trust of the community.

"I'm so sad to see him leave," Eveleth said. "I feel like [Chattanooga] stole a great leader from Austin."

As one of 17 commanders within the Austin Police Department, Fletcher oversaw more than 200 officers in a region with 175,000 residents. He also oversaw cleaning up an open-air drug market in east Austin.

Officials said he used principles known as the High Point model to get the district attorney's office and local organizations involved with police to stop the crime and keep offenders from going back to jail. Chattanooga recently adopted the model for Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative.

That experience is what Berke said set Fletcher apart from the other finalists.

Fletcher said he has seen the benefits of this type of police work and he's eager to oversee Chattanooga's initiative.

"We have essentially eliminated the open-air drug trade [in Austin]," Fletcher said. "But most importantly, when I walk that community [I can tell] the people there feel safer."

The City Council must approve Berke's pick before he can start work.

Several council members were already pleased with Berke's choice. Councilman Moses Freeman said he was impressed after speaking with the head of the Austin NAACP, who described Fletcher as fair and engaged with the community.

The original pool of 77 candidates included six internal candidates. Berke named a panel to pick four finalists: Fletcher; Chief Gregory Thomas, of Aurora, Ill.; Chief Stephen Mylett, of Southlake, Texas, and Chief Derrick Diggs from Toledo, Ohio. But Diggs withdrew from the process.

Sean O'Brien, Fraternal Order of Police president, said it was important to the union that Berke interview and consider internal candidates. But he said he feels Berke made the right decision, choosing a leader who can inspire the police department.

"My impression is he's extremely humble and excited about the opportunity and wants to be here," O'Brien said.

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