Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond says he won't seek reelection in 2022, endorses Chief Deputy Austin Garrett

Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks about costs of school resource officers in schools during a roundtable discussion at the Children's Kennedy Outpatient Center.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond says he will not seek re-election when his current term ends in 2022.

The three-term sheriff said he and his wife, Jeannie, decided it was time for him to hang up his gear and retire.

"We have children and grandchildren scattered," he said. "This season of life, you find yourself more wanting to impart to your children and grandchildren."

Hammond, 75, has already endorsed his Chief Deputy Austin Garrett to succeed him.

photo Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Austin Garrett speaks about the efforts of the sheriff's office to safely regain custody of an escaped inmate Monday, July 8, 2019 at the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"It'll still be up to the people to decide who they want to be their sheriff," he said. "But I'm certainly going to do what I can to mentor and monitor his progress so that I can unequivocally tell the public that, if they were satisfied with my service, I wish they would give a good look at him as their next sheriff."

Garrett said he does intend to run for sheriff.

"Right now, I'm focused on doing the best job I can as chief deputy and learning all I can from the sheriff as a mentor," he said. "But it is my intent to seek that office when the time is right."

State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, also has endorsed Garrett.

On Twitter, Carter wrote, "Sheriff Jim Hammond is a consummate professional who will leave behind a proud legacy and some big shoes to fill. [Austin Garrett] is up to the job."

While the decision to retire comes three years ahead of elections, Hammond, who has spent nearly 50 years in law enforcement, said he plans to finish out his current term.

"Nobody knows what kind of life things can happen tomorrow," he said. "But if my health holds and I'm still living, I plan to finish."

One of the achievements he is most proud of, he said, is moving his department into a more progressive direction, gaining accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

photo Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, right, and Chief Deputy Austin Garrett listen as Mayor Jim Coppinger presents his fiscal year 2020 budget during a budget workshop at Hamilton County's McDaniel Building on Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Coppinger is requesting additional funding for public safety and schools in his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal.

He also pushed for better educational standards for deputies and higher salaries, something that is included in the upcoming county budget.

Something he thinks he could have done better is to learn to be politically savvy earlier in his career.

"I could have been a little more aggressive in getting some improvements sooner," he said. "I had to really learn the political process and how everybody's got bosses, even elected people ... That's why I want to mentor whoever the next sheriff is on how to get the best he can for the sheriff's office."

Hammond was first elected in 2008, just two years after voters elected Billy Long over incumbent John Cupp.

Former Sheriff Long had resigned earlier that year before pleading guilty to federal gun, drug, extortion and money laundering charges. His resignation made 2008's special election a necessity.

In 2018, Hammond kept his seat after defeating Democratic challenger Victor Miller by a 34,650 to 20,761 margin.

Miller has not said if he plans to run for office again in 2022. Attempts to reach him for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Upon retirement, Hammond said, he looks forward to finishing up a book he's writing about law enforcement, learning to play the piano and tending to his fruit trees.

"I'll stay active in civic affairs, too; I'm not going to just disappear," he said. "I don't plan to hang around the sheriff's office and tell the new sheriff how to run his business."

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