Police union cites growing gang problem as need to boost benefits

Police union cites growing gang problem as need to boost benefits

March 24th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower and Beth Burger in News

Some of the gangs in Chattanooga include:

* Gangster Disciples

* Bloods

* Crips

* Vice Lords

* Money Over Everything

* Cutthoat

* Kemp Drive Posse

* Eastdale Blood

* Wood Lawn Crip

* Alton Park Blood

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

2011 SHOOTINGS

* Jan. 16 - Santonio Rutledge is shot in the knee during a fight at 2510 E. Main St. just after 12 a.m. No arrest made.

* Jan. 21 -Derrick Lewis, 28, is shot in the right buttock behind Terry's Lounge at 4010 Rossville Blvd. Cordirrus Birt, 20, who also goes by the surname "Jones," was arrested Feb. 25.

* Feb. 5 - A 15-year-old is shot in the left upper leg at a party at 1404 E. 16th St. The juvenile didn't seek help for 10 hours and initially told police he'd been shot in a drive-by. No arrest made.

* Feb. 10 - Lavante Favors, 25, is shot in the head in his apartment at 3726 Dorris St. His girlfriend found his body.

* Feb. 18 - Domnick Sherrell, 17, is fatally shot in the 1300 block of North Orchard Knob. His girlfriend's mother, Margaret Harris, is charged in the death.

* Feb. 26 - A 17-year-old male is shot in the neck during a fight in front of Memorial Auditorium at 399 McCallie Ave. A 15-year-old was arrested.

* March 4 - Ronald Blackmon is shot in the head on Sheridan Avenue and later dies. Edward Ryals, Jr. and Demetrius Bibbs have been charged.

* March 5 - Prandell Haynes, 20, is shot in the hand and a 3-year-old is shot in the leg at an apartment at 2300 Wilson St. No arrest made.

* March 6 - Darrell Paris, 22, is shot in the abdomen with sawed-off shotgun at 1329 Cypress Street Court. No arrest made.

* March 7 - Man is grazed from gunfire at 2302 Windsor St.

* March 9 - Jesse Myles Compton is shot in the stomach and killed at 9125 Stony Mountain Drive. Myles Stout, 20, is charged with reckless homicide.

* March 13 - Sharron Arnold, 23, is shot in each leg at 4295 Shallowford Road. No arrest made.

* March 13 - Saundra Williams, 20, is shot in shoulder and face while driving in the 1800 block of N. Hawthorne St. No arrest made.

* March 14 - Tommy Poindexter is shot five times in a domestic incident at 114 Arlington Terrace. His girlfriend's son, Roderick C. Jones, is wanted on charges of domestic aggravated assault and attempted first-degree murder.

* March 15 - Robert Moore, 49, is shot in the abdomen on his porch at 2302 E. 14th St. He died at the hospital shortly after the shooting.

* March 15 - Leon McKinney, 25, is shot in the hand at 30 Tunnel Blvd. Moore's nephew, Leslie Townsend, 24, is arrested.

* March 16 - Jason Hood, 37, is shot in the torso during an argument at 7648 Mallette Road. His cousin, William Larry Clark, is arrested.

* March 21-Three men were injured when gunfire broke out in the 1200 block of Cypress Street Court in the College Hill Courts development. The victims include: 22-year-old Marcel Hawthorne, 20-year-old Eric McMath, and 18-year-old Jermichael Powell were all shot near 1236 Cypress Street Court

* March 23 - Edward Rollins, 21, is shot four times as he was walking home from a friend's house at 11:30 p.m. near 3825 Highland Park Ave. He taken to a hospital in stable condition.

Using an issue that resonates with residents after a spate of shootings and homicides in the last couple of weeks, police unions are saying they can't fight criminal street gangs without better benefits from the city of Chattanooga.

"If we're worried about how we're going to take care of our own family, it's going to hinder our performance," said Phil Grubb, president of Local 673 International Brotherhood of Police Officers, who has worked at the Chattanooga Police Department for 17 years.

An electronic billboard on state Highway 153 flashes two messages from the IBPO:

"Chattanoogans take gang violence SERIOUSLY. Too bad the MAYOR doesn't. Mayor Littlefield: Step up or step aside."

And, "Mayor Littlefield is too busy fighting police to pay attention to gang violence. And the gangs couldn't be happier."

More signs are planned in the coming weeks as part of a publicity campaign to pressure Mayor Ron Littlefield and the Chattanooga City Council to enter into an agreement with officers, Grubb said.

Littlefield's spokesman, Richard Beeland, said Wednesday the mayor would not comment on anything regarding the unions, and neither would anyone within the administration.

"We are done with it," he said.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd declined several requests for interviews and would not answer questions on gangs or the billboards posted by his officers.

Grubb said benefits have been changed and reduced in recent years, making it tougher for police officers to do their jobs.

Among the issues with the city, he cited officers' pensions possibly changing to 401(k) plans, reduced overtime and cutting insurance for retirees once they reach 65 and become eligible for Medicare.

"We have been taking hits for six years now and the public safety comes at a cost, and that's why you have the problems you have now," said Grubb, who said officers have not received raises in several years.

He said it's difficult to retain officers without pay or benefit increases. The latest cut came in the form of charging officers who live outside of the city limits to take their patrol cars home.

Council members questioned whether some of the police union statements were completely accurate.

Councilman Jack Benson said he has brought up a few times that police and fire pension benefits for future employees need to be addressed and that could amount to some type of 401(k)-type defined-benefit program.

But he said that only pertains to "new" hires, not those already on the force.

"I have no intention of touching their benefits," he said. "We have an obligation."

Councilman Russell Gilbert said the fire and police pension fund has been brought up a few times at council meetings.

He supports reforms for new hires.

"The new ones, we need to change that," Gilbert said.

However, police officials and city officials have stated it will take a community effort to fight gangs. Police officials said the department has adjusted resources by doubling the size of its Crime Suppression Unit, which manages a gang database, to 10 officers e.

Union representatives say that's not enough resources.

"When they say they have the resources, we tell you to read the headlines. You can take their word for it or you can read the news yourself," said Sgt. Craig Joel, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police. "You are being assured on one hand ... but when you have weekly shootings and homicides, that tells a different story. Who are you going to believe?"

Ken Stricklan, president of East Lake Neighborhood Crime Watch, said he thinks the billboards are needed to send a message to City Hall to allocate more funding for public safety.

"My input is the mayor has sat back and claimed we have no gang problems," he said. "The mayor, to me, he doesn't want to stop the gangs. It breaks my heart when I turn on the TV and see kids killing kids. ... I think the mayor needs to work with the police department instead of working against them."

Joel said there are more than 50 documented criminal street gangs in the city. The Crime Suppression Unit focuses on the most violent ones, he said.

While the unit works hard to react to gang-related crime, he said, "Our concern is the resources we have drawn from are reduced month by month and year after fiscal year."

Councilman Peter Murphy said he has heard the Crime Suppression Unit would be beefed up and the police department is talking with the county about delivering additional assistance.

Murphy said he strongly supports the police department but doesn't necessarily see a link between recent street violence and police benefits.

"I don't think gangs react to that," he said. "I don't think gangs react to our looking at retirement benefits."

When asked if the billboards might hurt the relationship between officers and City Hall, Grubb responded, "We couldn't be alienated anymore. They've never done anything pro-police. When you're backed in a corner, you have nowhere else to go."

"Every year or every month they are taking some benefit from us," Grubb said.

"At the same time, when those gunshots ring out in the park [we hear] 'You better run out and find out who's doing that.'"

POLL: Should the city make cuts to police officers' benefits?