East Ridge police chief asks for new SWAT equipment, cars after union raises concerns

An East Ridge police cruiser is parked at a gas station nearby after an East Ridge police chase on May 26, 2016.

The East Ridge Police Department made progress Thursday night on getting officers the equipment needed to do their jobs. But while roughly $170,000 for new SWAT equipment and two new crime suppression unit vehicles is a welcome start, the police union says, it hopes Chief J.R. Reed will address the circumstances that led to the situation in the first place.

Chief Reed approached the East Ridge City Council with an emergency resolution asking to pay $107,251 for 12 tactical helmets, 12 protective vests and 13 high-powered rifles for the department's SWAT team. Reed also asked for $62,000 for two vehicles for the department's crime suppression unit, where the officers were previously sharing a vehicle. The money would come out of the city's general fund as opposed to the police budget.

Reed told council members he'd reviewed the old equipment - a few weeks after his recently unionized department held a neighborhood fundraiser to raise money for equipment. Vince Champion, the southeast regional director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, told the Times Free Press in July that unionized members had been struggling for the last four years to get their equipment requests taken seriously. Officers didn't have access to rubber gloves and lacked enough stun-gun cartridges to fire as part of their yearly certification process, among other basic things, Champion said.

At the time, Reed said his officers hadn't brought specific issues to him, which the union denied. If anything, Champion said, a SWAT officer who spoke out about outdated protective vests was kicked off the team earlier this summer for raising concerns outside "the chain of command." After filing a grievance, being accepted back onto the team, being kicked off the team again, filing a second grievance and getting union lawyers involved, the officer was reappointed Friday, Champion said.

Champion said the union appreciated Reed correcting the problem Thursday. But he pointed to Reed's comments in a WRCB-Channel 3 news report and said the chief still wasn't willing to admit that officers had shared concerns with him.

According to the WRCB story, Reed said, "I'm taking effective action to get it correct. Not knowing is part of the problem."

"For him to say that last night, apparently he's not trying to find out, because we've laid out a lot of it in meetings," Champion said Friday. "Since we started talking about these issues, for him to say he still doesn't know means he doesn't want to know."

Reed could not be reached for comment Friday. When a Times Free Press reporter contacted his office, someone seemed to answer the phone before hanging up. A second phone call went to a voicemail box that hadn't been set up and couldn't take messages.

About 35 of the department's 44 officers unionized in March, and their push for equipment led one citizen, Jody Grant, to host a "Back the Blue" barbecue fundraiser. During a recent city council meeting, Grant said the fundraiser yielded $5,528 for the department. With that money, officers have purchased 50 $100 gift cards to GT Distributors, a law-enforcement supply specialist store in Georgia. That way, officers can address their individual needs.

Also since that time, Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd, whose district includes East Ridge, announced the Hamilton County Commission would allocate $7,500 to the department, which happened last month.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at [email protected] or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.