It was a mixed bag of both praise and criticism of Chattanooga Police Department by community members during a public meeting Wednesday night as the department seeks re-accreditation from a national police standards agency.
The Virginia-based Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies measures police agencies by using more than 400 standards to examine agency guidelines. The evaluation can help create better accountability. The department has been accredited through the commission for 12 years and has since earned the "Gold Standard" assessment.
Two assessors are in town this week to review department records to ensure the department's policy and practices are in line with the commission's standards. As part of their review, the organization invites the public to share comments via phone, mail, email or in person at a public hearing, during which comments were limited to four minutes.
The crowd was small Wednesday night, but almost everyone shared their thoughts, including members of the social justice group Concerned Citizens for Justice, who spoke about recent instances of police misconduct and brutality.
HOW TO COMMENT
— Telephone comments can be directed to Lt. Eddy Chamberlin (423) 643-5414.
— Written comments may be sent to the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc.
(CALEA) at 13575 Heathcote Blvd., Suite 320, Gainsville, Virginia 20155 or www.calea.org
Nathan King referenced a number of cases: a recently-settled federal lawsuit for a 2018 traffic stop during which officer Benjamin Piazza punched and cursed a 37-year-old man, the recent guilty plea of officer Desmond Logan, who was accused of raping multiple women, and an internal investigation that found officer Ricky Ballard had sexually harassed female cadets.
"We have unaccountability in the streets, we have unaccountability even within the Chattanooga Police Department," he said. "The only way we're going to truly get police accountability is with an independent civilian oversight board [and for] the police to not continue policing themselves. That's not getting us anywhere, and again, it's costing us incredible amounts of public money that should be going to meaningful resources to underserved and impoverished communities."
Others shared concerns about the rift between police and the immigrant community, racial diversity within the department itself, as well as personal experiences with police using force.
But not everyone was as critical. Some spoke highly of the department and its officers, who they say have gone out of their way to be polite and eager to help find solutions to problems within the neighborhoods they patrol.
"There are a lot of issues, and we'd be here all day throwing out the good and the bad," said the Rev. Eundra Porter. "My thing is, I see a lot of initiatives from the police department. I see initiatives from the mayor's office — corrective initiatives, addressing some of the issues, trying to build better relationships with the community."