Chattanooga police to add 14 new officers to now 500-strong force after violent weekend

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 1/23/17. Police chief Fred Fletcher speaks during a press conference presenting a new multi-layered strategy to fight gun violence while at the Chattanooga Police Services Center on Monday, January 23, 2017.
photo Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher

Chattanooga police plan to add 14 new police officers to the force as part of an effort to crack down on gun violence in the city, police Chief Fred Fletcher said today.

The new hires would raise the number of officers to 500, but funding for the 14 new positions still needs to be approved by city council members.

In addition to the new hires, the police department plans to create a five-person team to focus solely on gun violence, start a dedicated gang unit and create 'Rapid Response Teams' to try to get ahead of violence as it is developing, especially on social media.

The strategy will rely heavily on the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), a tool that can match shell casings to guns and to other shell casings, similarly to the way police track fingerprints.

Police spent about $200,000 to be able to run shell casings in Chattanooga instead of sending the evidence to Nashville for testing.

"We will have twice as many people attacking gang violence than we did before," Fletcher said.

The announcement comes on the heels of a bloody weekend in Chattanooga, when two people were killed and another five people wounded in shootings.

Authorities said the new strategy will be used in addition to the Violence Reduction Initiative (VRI), a strategy the city rolled out in March 2014 to try to reduce gang-related gun violence.

The city has spent more than $1 million on VRI without seeing a decrease in gang-related gun violence. In fact, such shootings rose from 63 in 2014 to 80 in 2015 and to 80 again in 2016, according to police.

The new approach will not replace VRI, Fletcher said. The department will continue to hold call-ins, conduct enforcement actions and focus on gang members, he said.

The police department is still paying $22,000 to the National Network For Safe Communities - the organization that pioneered the approach behind VRI.

Fletcher said the department will continue to use VRI despite the lack of results because it is "what the community demanded."

"This community has said we want you to focus on the people driving the violence," Fletcher said. "We want you to use limited resources, finite taxpayer dollars and a discreet amount of goodwill and focus on the small number of people who commit crimes."