Cooper: Keep Hammond as sheriff

Cooper: Keep Hammond as sheriff

July 11th, 2018 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond answers questions from the Hamilton County Commission.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

We want our sheriffs to prevent crime and arrest the people who perpetrate crimes that occur.

But sheriffs, at least in Hamilton County, have a lot more on their plate. Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, for instance, maintains the Hamilton County Jail and the Silverdale Detention Center, is supervising the effort to move the former to the latter, must oversee the continual job of staffing the jail and patrol force, is looking to house mental health patients somewhere other than the jail, and is trying to fulfill the cry for student resource officers (SROs) in every county school.

We believe he is handling all of the above as well as can be expected, and we endorse him for a third term.

Hammond, 74, is opposed by Victor Miller, 34, the homicide unit supervisor for the Chattanooga Police Department, who by all rights has done well in his position. But the issues he cites are the same ones Hammond is already working on.

The challenger, for instance, says the jail is overcrowded and understaffed. But the sheriff has said that for years, and a plan is now in place to move the jail to Silverdale, which will be accomplished in phases and over time.

"Serious remodeling," according to Hammond, should begin at Silverdale by Sept. 1. The first phase, he said, will be a rebuilt kitchen, laundry room and women's unit. The second phase will be additional cells.

His wish, he said, is for the jail to be gone from downtown in five years and have the property back on the tax rolls.

Meanwhile, Hammond hopes to move mental health patients out of the jail and has applied for a $650,000 grant to help do so. Those patients don't need to be in jail, he said, and not having them there will keep the county from having to build a bigger jail facility.

Miller says he would focus on prevention, reentry programs and diversion programs rather than solely on incarceration.

During Hammond's current term as sheriff, the Silverdale facility was shifted to be under his aegis and out from under County Mayor Jim Coppinger.

Miller said he would work through the facility's current contract with for-profit manager Core Civic, then transition it to be more in direct control of the county, where it might be run "with less money, more control and better medical care."

Hammond says Core Civic "at this point is less expensive" than the county running it. There may come a day when it may be cheaper for the county to run it. Currently, he says, "we have a good working relationship."

The 2019 Hamilton County Schools budget includes funding for seven more SROs in its buildings, where currently 29 of 79 have such a presence.

Hammond says the sheriff's department must not only train and equip the new SROs but help retrofit the buildings to be more secure.

Miller, like the sheriff, wants SROs in every school and says more than seven could be on-boarded if more funding was available. Both candidates have said they are not opposed to continually trained administrators being armed.

The challenger, citing fewer homicides and shootings in Chattanooga under his watch, says he'd use more data and intelligence to reduce crime and prevent it. He believes he'd also be able to "better allocate the [sheriff's office] budget to the needs of the community," would foster a more transparent department and would have department information more readily available to the media.

Both candidates are worthy professionals, but we believe Hammond should be re-elected because he possesses a calm, pragmatic, workmanlike attitude toward the progress he's already made in the job and in the community.

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