Chattanooga Police Department's Crime Suppression Unit rounding up suspects

photo Chattanooga Police Officer Aaron Williams, left, brings in robbery suspect Jeremiah Miller at the Amnicola headquarters. Officer Williams captured the suspect in the Woodlawn development during the second night of a citywide crime saturation effort under the direction of Police Chief Bobby Dodd.

BY THE NUMBERSIn recent saturation roundup by Chattanooga police:• 10 gang members arrested• 21 felony arrests• 49 misdemeanor arrests• 34 field interviews with gang members• 43 grams of crack cocaine seized• 8 people with federal indictments apprehended• 113 moving citations• 116 traffic stops• 1,012.6 grams of marijuana seized• $4,854 seized in money and property• $21,658 in drugs seized• Participating agencies included Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, FBI, ICE, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service, Chattanooga Housing Authority Police and Hamilton County 911Source: Chattanooga Police Department

"Hey, you guys didn't get the hint the first time?"

Investigator John Patterson, his arm propped on the window of his patrol car, polarized glasses shielding his eyes, is speaking to men huddled along the sidewalk near Sandy's Mini Mart on Glass Street.

It's his second time rounding the corner near Latta Street and, once he speaks, the men begin to disperse in hurried steps. Some men who linger on the corner have drug convictions and are suspected of dealing, Patterson said.

He is one of 10 officers on the Chattanooga Police Department's Crime Suppression Unit, which specializes in proactively tackling crime trends and, in recent years, has grown to track gang intelligence.

With the increase in gang violence in the city, Police Chief Bobby Dodd said he's considering adding five more officers to the unit.

The unit, augmented with patrol officers and divided into eight groups of five or more, hit the streets last week on two days, trying to clear unserved warrant lists, picking up offenders mostly on drug charges and traffic offenses and just letting themselves be seen in some of the city's tougher neighborhoods.

"A lot of the purpose [of saturations] is to let [the public] know we do care, and we're here to do something about it, and improve the community," Patterson said. "A lot of that has to do, unfortunately, with people who are breaking the law and taking them to jail."

The most-recent roundup ended with 21 felony arrests, 49 misdemeanor arrests and a total of 29 warrants served.

Held almost quarterly, the roundups also can focus on recent crime trends. For instance, the operation last week dealt with a spate of robberies in neighborhoods.

"Right now we have a rash of robberies. People are hitting different areas. We are dealing with that," said Capt. Edwin McPherson, standing in the police department gymnasium, as close to 45 officers were briefed before heading out for the roundup.

Out on the streets, a patrol officer arrested an 18-year-old man who is suspected in as many as 10 robberies, according to police reports.

Jeremiah J. Miller was spotted at the Woodlawn apartment complex and jumped off a landing, preparing to run. He turned the wrong way, though, and ran right into Officer G.A. Williams.

Miller -- whose mugshot was passed around to officers earlier -- was charged in two robberies, including a stickup in the parking lot of the Walgreen's at 110 Market St. on the North Shore. A woman's keys and truck were taken from her, police said.

Miller remains in jail on a $410,000 bond and his case has been sent to the grand jury.

The saturations, which began in 2004, pull officers from various shifts and other departments to ensure districts have the normal staffing levels, police said.

"These efforts are very successful. We've put over a 1,000-plus people in jail since we began doing it," McPherson said.

"We kind of box [the criminals] into a corner when we go out. We let them know that, 'Hey, these are our streets, and you're not going to come out here and commit these types of crime on our streets and think you're going to get away with it.'"

Patterson made stops throughout the evening, sometimes backing up other officers on arrests, gathering information from residents or checking local businesses.

Sometimes business operators are afraid to chase away gang members and drug dealers from their business for fear of robbery or retaliation, Patterson said as he stopped to check stores and nearby parking lots.

Some business owners in the Avondale community said they try to keep to themselves.

"I don't get involved with the dope dealers. I just run my business," said one man who declined to give his name.

Another woman, who works at another neighborhood business and also wished to remain anonymous, said, "It's a good thing [police] are out because there's a lot of people getting robbed."

Still, when officers walk through the parking lot, people clear out and that can hurt business, too.

"[Police] think every young black boy is selling drugs," she said.

The Chattanooga Crime Suppression Unit was formed in 2007, when Dodd was an assistant chief and McPherson and Sgt. Todd Royval, who now oversees the unit, showed an interest in developing the group.

At the time, gang units were a national trend. Nationwide, 365 police departments and sheriff's offices reported they had speciality units with more than 4,300 officers dedicated to combating gangs, according to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Justice.