Cook: The marathon police chief

Cook: The marathon police chief

April 29th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Ran the Scenic City Trail race on Saturday.

(Sorry. Let me try that again.)

Ran and walked the Scenic City Trail race on Saturday. Things were fine until mile 10, when my hamstrings decided they'd had enough and went back to the car.

Otherwise, it was a beautiful day up on Raccoon Mountain. The sky was an endless blue, the woods a springtime green. It was the handiwork of God, with Bob Ross whispering in his ear.

So afterward, I'm shuffling around, refueling on peanut M&Ms and cans of Modelo, trying to ice down my gluteus-everythingus when lo and behold, I look over and see Fred Fletcher.

You know, Fred Fletcher.

The new police chief.

"Nice to meet you," he said.

Last week, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke named Fletcher to lead the city police department. (The City Council must still vote to approve him, and I'll give 100-to-1 odds they will). Fletcher is 46, and coming from Austin-we-are-weird-Texas, where he was a police commander, and apparently a beloved one.

"I hate to see that guy leave," one of his colleagues told the Austin Statesman. "He's one of the good ones."

He's also one of the fast ones. Fletcher ran the half-marathon in 1 hour and 52 minutes, coming in 50th out of 193 runners. Pace-wise, that's 8:35 a mile through the rocky, hilly woods.

Personality-wise, the guy seems just as winning.

We talked for a bit. He's a runner and cyclist, and was smiling bigger than anyone should after 13 miles.

Chattanooga seemed to be flirting with him: the beauty of Raccoon Mountain, the endorphine-high of trail running, the Bob Ross sky.

In five minutes, he mentioned a half-dozen ideas he had for the city. Community meetings. Mobile community meetings, where he joins other runners through different neighborhoods in town. We talked bike lanes. I gave him the CliffsNotes on the Anders Swanson story.

I don't remember every word of our conversation, because my blood sugar had yet to get up off the mat, but I do remember thinking this:

This guy hasn't even had time to park his U-Haul, and he's out running 13 miles through the woods with strangers?

I took it as a good sign.

Fletcher seems like a people's guy, most at home in a crowd, talking with folks. The stories coming out of Austin tell of a man who walks the streets, knocking on doors, treating people the way he'd want to be treated.

They say he's humble. Wants his officers out of their cars, building relationships. He keeps an eye on the least of these; in Austin, he taught civil rights and safety classes to immigrants, and tried to learn at least one word of their language.

We need that here, some reborn kindness and trust between communities and the officers who protect and police them.

We also need our outdoorism to be protected and legitimized. Our ascendency as the top outdoor city in the South has been lacking an in-house ambassador -- somebody with real power that knows what it's like to get airhorned or run off the road.

Having Fletcher as police chief could put a badge behind the outdoor community, in ways obvious and less so.

Like this: I'd wager that police will soon write 10 times the number of tickets they have in the last five years to punish drivers who violate the three-foot law. (For those of you counting at home, the answer's one. They've written one ticket since 2009).

Perhaps most of all, we need his endurance.

Since 1997, Chattanooga has seen four police chiefs.

Jimmie Dotson. Steve Parks. Freeman Cooper. Bobby Dodd.

That's an average of one new chief every four years.

We need a City Hall that doesn't appoint a new chief with every new mayor. We need somebody that can go the distance.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.