A Letter To The New Chattanooga Chief Of Police

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

If I were a betting man, I would place $20 on the mayor bringing in someone from the outside, someone who he feels that he can control and get what he wants...that being that the men and women of the police department lay down and take what he is feeding.  With that bet placed, I want to take a minute to pen a letter to the new chief and hope that he or she reads these words.

Dear Sir or Ma'am, 

I am a former Chattanooga Police officer with a total of over 20 years in law enforcement in this county.  Thirteen and a half of those years were spent working Fox Team in East Lake and working K-9.  During that time I experienced some of the most violent crimes that a person can imagine, with some of that crime directed at me.  In the years prior to working at Chattanooga I was never injured on duty, this despite the fact that I was highly motivated and constantly looking for something to get in to.  

In the time I was at Chattanooga I was injured on duty several times and seriously enough that I missed several weeks of work.  When you work in a department that is/was habitually understaffed, one officer out on IOD (Injured on Duty) status caused much more work for the other officers in the department.  It was not uncommon for us to answer 25-30 calls a day on second shift, often missing a dinner break or wolfing down whatever you could in between calls.  But think about this, 25-30 calls per shift is roughly 3.5 calls per hour.  By the time you drive from one call to the next, depending on where the call was in the district or city, that particular citizen got roughly 10 minutes of a patrolman's eight hour day for the initial investigation of their call, complaint or crime.  Yes, this is an rough average but that is/was a typical day in East Lake.  I don't have to tell you that part of a police officer's duty is initiating police related activity (stopping vehicles, suspicious persons, etc) to try and interdict crime and or traffic violations.  Should one of these stops result in an arrest, then the workload again increased for the other officers working the zone.

During my career I became accustomed to verbal and physical attacks from criminals and angry citizens, I didn't take it personal...after all, it was part of the job.  The most disturbing thing that came to pass over the years was the assault on officers by the very administrations that we worked for.  People expect broken promises from politicians, but with each change in administrations we, as a department, hoped that the newest one would finally fulfill their promises and stand behind us.  The past few administrations, as well as the current one, have failed the officers and, more importantly, the citizens terribly. 

Some citizens have balked at the thought of a police officer being able to retire "in their 40's" but to them I say that, after 25 years of working the street, you are tired.  Physically and mentally tired.  Your body is beaten, abused and, oftentimes, neglected.  You have seen so much violence, pain and suffering that you become hardened, numb and cynical.  You have had promises of better equipment, pay and your pension...the one thing that makes you believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, yanked from under your feet.  You have to work extra jobs to try and make ends meet, which causes you to miss out on your kids' ballgames, birthdays and holidays.  Many marriages fail because of the constant stress and struggle of just trying to survive. 

You are not taking over a department that is in turmoil from within.  The turmoil that exists comes from the Crystal Palace on 11th Street and it has for many, many years now.  The department is losing much of the leadership to retirement, taking with it invaluable experience and guidance...two things that can never be replaced and still have an effective police force in the city. 

The department is made up of hard-working people who will need someone to fight for them and not bow down to the mayor's office.  They need someone who will have their backs, each and every day of their careers.  They are professional and do the best that they can with what they have and play the cards that they are dealt, but they are tired.  They are tired of having to fight for the pay that will attract more quality officers to the department and to carry on the legacy of the officers before them.  They are tired of having to fight for benefits that will keep them healthy and able to continue working and they are tired of fighting for the pension that they must survive on in the days when they are too old and broken to work any other job.  They need for the city council and the citizens to stand behind them and give them something for their years of sacrificing their bodies, minds and...sometimes their lives.

I leave in a few days and will return to Afghanistan where I now work, but I think of these men and women every day and, every day, I pray that God will keep them safe and show them that they are fighting the good fight.  Earn their respect by being a leader and someone that they can depend on, as well as trust in.  Do not be a puppet, because one day the puppet master will tire of playing with you.   

May God bless you and the men and women of the Chattanooga Police Department.  

Marty Penny

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