Let us assert at the outset that we don't know, and there's no way to know, if anything would have changed.
But the Chattanooga Police Department's own timeline of events preceding an early morning shooting incident on June 5 near Mary's Bar & Grill on McCallie Avenue made us wonder about the city's decision last year to cut 25 unfilled positions from the police department.
City officials at the time described the decision as part of their plan to "re-imagine policing" and said some of the money would be diverted to a co-response team.
Local activists in the wake of protests following the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police said funds from the local police department should be cut and "reinvested back into our community." However, learning of the unfilled positions cut and creation of the co-response team, they described the moves as "empty promises meant to keep people satisfied and quiet," as "halfhearted gestures" and as "dip[ping] their toes in the water of progress and declaring themselves washed of all sin."
Chattanooga police, it cannot be refuted, had had a difficult time for years in keeping a full police force, in recruiting minorities for the force, and in paying them enough to retain them.
In the years immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic, jobs were plentiful in a non-inflationary economy, many paid higher wages than the police department, and most offered far less stress and danger.
"Without fail, it's been money," Chattanooga Police Department (CPD) Sgt. Andrew Peker told the Chattanooga City Council last year when the fiscal 2022 budget was revealed. "I haven't one time heard that someone was looking to leave because they didn't love Chattanooga and they prefer to live somewhere else. It comes down to the money. These officers can go an hour or two in any direction and make a fair wage, and I don't know how to counter that."
So while the Kelly mayoral administration cut the unfilled positions for fiscal 2022, it also increased the pay of a police cadet 24% — up to $43,575.
Now, fast forward to June 5 (actually the waning hours of June 4).
According to police, officers from two CPD units responded to a shooting at 1300 Carter St. at 11:20 p.m., "a larger crime scene" where three people were shot. More than two hours later, at 1:45 a.m., a large fight on Station Street, adjacent to the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex, drew 22 city patrol cars.
"As you can see," the department release said, "resources were exhausted quickly due to a number of events happening immediately before the [McCallie Avenue] shooting occurred."
At the same time as the Station Street rumble, calls were made from Mary's Bar & Grill at 1:35 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. to the police non-emergency number asking police to disperse a crowd of some 200 people gathering on McCallie, blocking traffic and partying. Another call to Hamilton County 911 at 2:17 a.m. asked for police help in dispersing the crowd.
The department said at 2:19 a.m. Hamilton County 911 indicated there were no units available and delayed dispatch until a unit could be available. Subsequent calls were made about an armed suspect within a mile of the McCallie scene, about someone having trouble driving through traffic near the bar and, again from Mary's, about the crowd.
Two minutes after the last call from Mary's, calls came about shots being fired. When all was said and done, three people were dead and 14 injured.
If the CPD had just a few of those cut positions back, and was able to fill them at the newer, higher salaries, could one officer — after the first call about a crowd, an hour before the shooting — have been able to disperse the partiers? An officer, for safety reasons, certainly would have felt duty-bound to clear McCallie Avenue for traffic.
Indeed, with an extra officer or two not called to Carter or Station streets, one routinely might have been patrolling along McCallie and come upon the scene. The officer, even without a call to the emergency or non-emergency numbers, would have stopped to get people off the street.
To reiterate, hindsight is easy. It's easy to imagine with a few extra officers on the force someone would have been available to disperse the Mary's crowd and avoid the bloodshed that followed. But we can't know for sure.
We do know, in the police department's own telling, that "resources were exhausted" by what seems like a perfect storm of events. The department did not detail how, or if, the co-response team assisted with events or if its presence at any or all of the scenes allowed police to respond more quickly to other scenes.
Going forward, we hope new Police Chief Celeste Murphy, in any conversations before the city council or with Mayor Tim Kelly, will be forthright in discussing whether the force should be expanded or if the "re-imagined" squad is adequate the way it is.