Hammond deserves re-election as sheriff

Hammond deserves re-election as sheriff

April 17th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Jim Hammond

Jim Hammond

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

Sheriff Jim Hammond and his Republican primary opponent, Chris Harvey, have a difference of opinion on how the captain of the Hamilton County law enforcement ship should conduct himself.

"In my observation," says Harvey, a sergeant and patrol supervisor on the force, "the captain should know the ship from top to bottom."

"You just can't do [everything] in a department this size," counters Hammond. "Very few [sheriffs] can be much more than businessmen."

While we admire Harvey's rise through the ranks of the department, his sincere desire to educate children before they fall into a life of crime and his constructive criticism of the office, we believe Hammond's 40-plus years of law enforcement experience, his innovations in the office and his steady hand on the tiller warrant his re-election.

Since no Democrats are running, the primary winner is all but assured of being the next sheriff.

Hammond, who was elected in 2008 to fill the unexpired term of jailed former Sheriff Billy Long and re-elected for a full term in 2010, was the longtime chief deputy to former Sheriff H.Q. Evatt. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and spent 14 years overseas teaching policing techniques in 22 countries.

"I still have a lot to give, still want to implement ideas I have," he says.

Among the 20 programs he created or made changes in since taking office, Hammond cites the growth and change in the focus to younger students of school resource officers, the creation of the Law Enforcement Foundation (which raised $180,000 for new technology, staff training and community programs), the development of the Crisis Intervention Team (in which specially trained officers address issues surrounding the treatment and confinement of persons with mental illnesses), the tripling of the size of the reserve officers staff, and the creation of mounted patrol and road chaplaincy programs as significant.

"We're doing everything the budget allows us to do," he says.

In doing that job, though, Harvey says the sheriff has, among other things, given his command staff raises the rank-and-file didn't get, shown favoritism in hiring his son for a website job, been inconsistent in disciplining officers, shamed the force by allowing a convicted former sheriff's deputy and Hammond friend (Lonnie Hood) to do community service work at the jail, and suggested in a statement that criminals be run out of town, jailed or sent to the funeral home.

Morale in the department below the rank of captain, he says, "is the lowest I've ever seen."

Hammond, in his defense, says morale in such a large department is never "static" and that officers, in fact, "don't make enough" but are properly outfitted in $5,000-$6,000 worth of gear. He also said hiring his son saved the county money because what his son did for $35-$40 an hour would have cost $100-plus an hour if the work had been outsourced, claimed what he did for Hood he'd done for others and maintained the "funeral home" comment was "taken out of context" and meant only that criminals on their own have a good chance of winding up in a funeral home if they continue unlawful activity.

Harvey, in a meeting with Times Free Press editorial writers, said he didn't "know much" about Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative and he "didn't know if we need a new jail."

With all due respect to his serious candidacy for the office, he should have informed himself on a major initiative of a police force the sheriff's office must work with daily, and he should be able to cite chapter and verse whether or not the Hamilton County Jail is adequate.

Hammond certainly hasn't been silent about the latter, and in his meeting with editorial writers said the nearly 40-year-old jail is "very labor intensive" to operate. He cited a grand jury report the jail could use 30 more staffers and didn't pull any punches in saying a new facility "would be expensive," in the range of $50-$60 million.

"We're on the edge [of needing it]," he said.

We are impressed with Harvey's candidacy and believe the sheriff could foster better rapport with his department but overall believe Hammond should be re-elected.