Chattanooga's new police chief, Fred Fletcher, started his first official day on the job by talking with the family of a homicide victim.
His first day had been heavily scheduled for public appearances -- including passing out books to schoolchildren with Tennessee first lady Crissy Haslam -- and while Fletcher did eventually make it to those appearances, the day started with the family of the man found killed in a car on South Terrace early Wednesday morning.
It's something he hopes to do frequently.
"If I have a chance to go out and visit with the family of somebody who was harmed or killed and I can help them understand the process and feel that their city, their government, their police department cares, then that's always going to take precedence," he said. "Hopefully it's not a typical day -- but it's not an unusual day."
The city's new police chief hopes to spark a culture change at the department, and he plans to lead by example. Fletcher wants the department to be "extroverted" and community-oriented, to listen to neighbors and solve real problems -- and not always through arrests.
"I just assume [we will] put as few people in jail as we can, while making the city safe," he said.
That's part of the reason he headed out on a recent Saturday to visit with some of the people the city is targeting in its Violence Reduction Initiative. He talked to between 50 and 70 people that day, he estimated.
"In community policing, every encounter is an opportunity," he said. "We'd be going out to go to apartment 301 to talk to person A, but if we see a group of people on the corner, we're going to take five minutes to go out and talk to them in a noncrisis, nonconfrontational mode."
Fletcher still needs to finish unpacking his gear and setting up his office, and he's reviewing resumes and calling references in order to promote his new command staff: three or four assistant chiefs. He'd like to rearrange the police station on Amnicola Highway so it's a more physically collaborative environment, and he still sometimes slips up and calls Austin, Texas, home.
He's made a good first impression, neighbors say. And before long, they'd like to see some real changes.
"My first impression of him was that he was down-to-earth and human," said Olga de Klein, co-leader of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association's safety committee.
"It takes a long time to make a change, and I'm not impatient. I'd like to see some changes that I can observe six months from now. But I don't know how long it's going to take. I have to be realistic, too."
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