Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd - always a cop

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd - always a cop

January 1st, 2014 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd., speaks to members of the STARS program (Shepherd Teaching Academics Respect Service) during a tour of the Chattanooga Police Services Center. Dodd retired Tuesday.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Former police chief Bobby Dodd was assigned to mounted patrol for 18 months downtown before the unit was dissolved. From left to right are former officers Danny Hill, Bobby Dodd and Jim Brock.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Bobby Dodd never forgot where he came from.

During his 26 years with the Chattanooga Police Department, the last three as chief, that may have been his biggest asset, those who knew him say.

Dodd grew up in East Lake.

"I think he had a certain advantage growing up in the inner city," said Kevin Adams, pastor at Olivet Baptist Church. "Knowing a lot of the constituents, and feeling part of it -- not coming in just trying to do law enforcement, but coming out of it and feeling a part of it -- I think his approach was totally different."

Tuesday marked Dodd's last day on the job. He had already turned in his department-issue black 2013 Ford Taurus. He was allowed to keep his Sig P220 handgun.

"I've loved the job," he said in an interview. "I've had some good days and bad days and some really, really bad days. I wouldn't trade any of them."

Under Dodd's leadership, the police department met a gold standard law enforcement accreditation for the first time, added new high-tech crime-fighting tools to its arsenal, increased the size of its crime suppression unit and nearly doubled the number of minority officers on the force.

But with great authority comes great responsibility. In 2011, Dodd had to bury his longtime friend -- Sgt.Tim Chapin -- who was shot and killed while responding to a robbery.

Despite all the pressures of the job, it was outside forces that prompted Dodd's decision to retire at age 49.

He said the possibility of drastic pension changes and significant changes coming down from the mayor's office helped him make up his mind.

"With the change in administration, there's a lot more hands on downtown. There's a lot more input from administration," Dodd said. "If you hire someone to do a job, I feel like you should allow them the freedom to do that."

Inside the department, Dodd will be remembered as a chief who, in many ways, still considered himself to be an average officer.

"I didn't sign on to be a politician," he said. "I didn't sign on to be a bureaucrat. I didn't sign on to sit behind a desk. I signed on to be a cop."

•••

Dodd first donned a CPD uniform in 1986, at age 21, after returning home from the Army.

His personnel file holds numerous glowing performance reviews from supervisors. He showed leadership qualities early in his career.

"This detective is an excellent example of a professional police officer, generating a positive image for the department. He is popular with superiors as well as his peers and subordinates. Deals effectively with all segments of society," said a supervisor in a review in the mid-1990s when Dodd investigated property crimes.

He also knew how to respond when lives were on the line.

In January 1994, George Kenneth Weathers, 40, had kidnapped his ex-wife as she worked in downtown Chattanooga. Weathers began to drive north on Highway 27 toward Mowbray Mountain.

News accounts of the day told how Weathers pulled a knife on her. She managed to jump out of the truck and fled into traffic. He fired a shotgun as she ran.

She was struck in the chest. Blood poured as she ran.

A woman driving a van stopped to pick her up. Weathers continued to fire, with one shot striking the driver's ankle. The women just kept going, and Weathers retreated into the woods.

Dodd was part of a five-member SWAT team that, after a tip, surrounded a trailer to negotiate with Weathers a day or so later.

"We went into the woods to negotiate with him. He wasn't going to have it," Dodd said.

Dodd and the other officers were just feet from Weathers, in the direct line of fire. Weathers, who was wearing a poncho, threw it back to reveal a shotgun. Police had a spotlight and yelled for him to give himself up. He fired. The shot went between Dodd and another officer.

"He shot at us and we returned fire and he died," Dodd said.

Newly retired Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd may challenge Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond in the May 6 Republican primary.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

Dodd's shot struck Weathers' chest, striking his lung and spinal cord. He fell dead seven feet away from Dodd.

On Weathers' weapon, officers found carved on it the phrases, "Pigs die," "Satan 666" and "Son of Satan."

To mark his experiences on the SWAT team, a tattoo of a SWAT officer in gear adorns one of Dodd's legs.

"I really enjoyed my time on the tactical team," he said. "That's when you put yourself through some tests. You have to put your trust in each other and trust each other with your life."

Dodd's favorite assignment, though, was working as a detective solving burglaries and robberies during the 1990s.

"It's a cat-and-mouse game. Criminals are trying to outsmart you and society. You have to track them down and take them off the streets," he said.

He has memories of keeping a box of cigarettes in his desk. Many suspects enjoyed smoking, and a cigarette could ease someone into talking. Dodd would buy cheeseburgers for suspects who faced years of jail food. Dodd and Deputy Chief Tommy Kennedy made one arrest in which the suspect, Michael Pittman, confessed to committing 150 break-ins. Pittman smoked cigarettes and ate cheeseburgers.

"From the time he woke up to the time he laid his head down, he was breaking into places," Dodd recalled. "He would take jewelry, TVs, electronics ... anything he could convert into crack."

There were days when good didn't prevail.

Dodd, as police chief, lost his longtime friend Sgt. Tim Chapin, who was shot and killed while responding to a robbery at a pawn shop in 2011. Dodd broke down when he notified the Chapin family of the death. His voice cracked when he spoke at the funeral before hundreds of people.

"His death created a great void in our lives, our community and our department that we'll never be able to fill," he said at the funeral.

This week he reflected back on those moments.

•••

Dodd's decision to leave the department was not easy, he said, but came after mounting uncertainty.

"Several things factored into making the decision -- my time in service, which is a 25-year minimum, the possibility of drastic pension changes coming next year, change in administration and several overall changes for the department going forward," he said.

Former Mayor Ron Littlefield appointed Dodd police chief in 2010. While Littlefield had differences with the police unions and members of the department, Dodd had a good working relationship with him.

"He never once called this police department and told me how to do police work," Dodd said. "He never called over here one time and asked me to change a decision I made. I respected him for that."

Since Mayor Andy Berke took office, he has pledged to lower crime and the number of shootings and to that end has announced plans for a violence reduction initiative.

As of Monday, there had been 121 shootings in 2013, a 16 percent increase over 2012. The number of homicides decreased from 24 to 19, the lowest since 2009.

Berke has commissioned the International Associations of Chiefs of Police to conduct a police management study that is expected to begin next month. The decision was hurtful in the wake of rumors that Berke was already searching for a replacement for Dodd.

"[The mayor] can do what he wants to do," Dodd said. "We always want to be better and do better. If there are things that are constructive [in the study], then absolutely we need to do that."

Dodd was also initially uncertain about the crime program that Berke touted during his campaign.

The program created by criminologist David Kennedy of the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York focuses on targeting violent drug offenders. They are offered a chance to change. If they continue to commit crimes, they are charged at a federal level where sentences offer time without parole.

"You hate to work at a department 23 years and take over as chief and work toward something. And then three years in, have someone call into question what you've done and what your department has achieved," Dodd said.

But now, after reading Kennedy's book and talking to him, Dodd believes the initiative has the potential to work here if it's supported by the department, administration and community.

"He agrees that what we're doing is the right thing to do," Dodd said. "We're on the right path."

•••

Dodd is going to have get used to some things being different.

While chief, he routinely made traffic stops on the way to and from his home in Soddy-Daisy. If he heard calls go out while he was driving, he would sometimes respond with other officers.

"It's going to be hard to adjust to not responding or taking action when you see people violate the law," he said. "I'll stay in the slow lane, drive under the speed limit and mind my own business, I guess."

As for employment, he has received job opportunities from the private and government sectors.

"I am still considering all options and haven't decided yet," he said.

Dodd is considering a run for Hamilton County sheriff to unseat Jim Hammond.

"I have been humbled by the number of law enforcement officers, citizens and political folks that have encouraged me to run," said Dodd. "My wife is not that excited about the possibilities. ... She feels 29 years of public service and scrutiny is enough for anyone."

The fire and police pension board hold a board meeting days after Police Chief Bobby Dodd and his command staff stated that they will retire. There has been a significant increase in the number of public service employees retiring this year.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

But, he said, "I would be honored to serve with the men and women of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office if given the opportunity."

Most of Dodd's command staff, including Kennedy, Assistant Chief Randy Dunn and Assistant Chief Kirk Eidson all recently retired. Assistant Chief Stan Maffett, who will mark 40 years with the department this year, will serve as interim chief until Berke appoints a chief.

Even if Dodd chooses not to run for sheriff, it's possible the legacy will continue. His 25-year-old son, Bobby Dodd Jr., has expressed interest in becoming a police officer.

"I never hired him to be a police officer while I was chief to avoid the perception that I was taking care of my son with a job," Dodd said.

As Dodd looks ahead, he is going to be missed inside the department and out.

Chattanooga Sgt. Tim Tomisek, president of the local chapter of International Brotherhood of Police Officers, described Dodd as a leader -- not a manager.

"He was a cop. He could have got into these leadership roles where he could have been strictly a manager where he pointed his finger and said, 'You do this because I'm the boss.' He didn't. He led from the front because he's a leader, which is exactly what the police department needs," he said.

Adams said Dodd created a unique relationship with area pastors.

"If there was a situation that he thought pastors should be aware of or want to be involved in, he was always on the phone, personally. Himself," Adams said. "In 23 years of pastoring, I hadn't had that opportunity."

If police were going to start a crackdown, sometimes Dodd would let Adams know.

"That let me know that they had a heart," Adams said. "That they weren't just about locking these guys up."

Contact staff writer Beth Burger at bburger@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6406. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/abburger.