Decision day: Confirmation of Chattanooga's next chief in council's hands

Decision day: Confirmation of Chattanooga's next chief in council's hands

May 12th, 2014 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Mayor Andy Berke's choice for Chattanooga police chief, Fred Fletcher, speaks to media on April 29.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should the City Council approve Fred Fletcher for police?

IF YOU GO

What: Chattanooga City Council debates hiring Fred Fletcher as police chief

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Council chambers, 1000 Lindsay St.

When Chattanooga community leader Joe Rowe met with Fred Fletcher - the mayor's pick for police chief - Rowe gave him a to-do list to improve relations between the community and police.

• Hire more minority officers.

• Train officers to better understand the community.

• Stop racial profiling.

Rowe, vice president of the local NAACP chapter, said it was important to meet Fletcher and find out if he was open to listening before the new chief was approved by City Council.

Rowe quickly realized Fletcher wanted to hear the community's concerns, ask questions and meet again with leaders after he thought about how to reduce mistrust on both sides.

"I felt like he was open and honest and seemed willing to work with the community on issues that are important to the black community," said Rowe.

City officials estimate about 100 people met with Fletcher over the course of a week after Mayor Andy Berke offered him the job on April 24.

Several local leaders said the council should confirm the 20-year veteran from Austin, Texas, as the next police chief when it convenes Tuesday. They said he's shown willingness to listen to residents and understand how to tackle the crime and racial tensions.

"I think he really believes in community policing," said Everlena Holmes, a coordinator of Glenwood block leaders. "He will be a breath of fresh air for Chattanooga."

Holmes' ideas for Fletcher include an independent, citizen-led police review board and regular meetings between lieutenants and neighborhood association leaders. That's already happening in East Chattanooga, and Holmes said it has improved relations with the community and reduced crime.

Fletcher will be back in town Tuesday to appear before the City Council, where he is expected to be approved with a salary of $142,500.

That's about $15,000 more than former chief Bobby Dodd was paid when he retired Dec. 31, but $2,000 less than Fletcher made as a commander for the Austin Police Department.

"I think it's reasonable [salary,]" said Councilman Moses Freeman. "When you bring someone in, you want to bring them in at the market rate."

The contract with Fletcher hasn't been finalized, said City Attorney Wade Hinton, but he expected it to be complete by Tuesday. If the council approves Fletcher's hiring, he is expected to start work in June, said Berke spokeswoman Lacie Stone.

The city's charter stipulates that the mayor may hire his own police and fire chiefs to serve during his term.

Freeman said he wouldn't be opposed to the city offering Fletcher an extended contract because the police department needs continuity to change its culture and establish good policies.

"Whatever good policies that are implemented, you want to make sure they last," he said.

In fact, some experts behind successful programs similar to Chattanooga's Violence Reduction Initiative have said that it's key to keep a leader in place to implement lasting change in a community.

Councilman Larry Grohn said he sees Fletcher as having the skills to improve the community's relationship in part because of his good reputation in the black communities in Austin and that he is fluent in Spanish.

"He is the prime example of going out and getting involved in the community and getting the community to realize that his primary goal is that the citizens are protected," Grohn said.

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