As odd as it may appear, Jim Hammond will run for public office for just the second time in coming weeks in his quest to be re-elected as Sheriff of Hamilton County. “That does sound strange but it is true,” said the veteran lawman who will celebrate his 70th birthday just days after the 2014 election. “What’s just as amazing is that I enjoy serving the people just as much as I did that first day in law enforcement almost 40 years ago."
The sheriff, who spent 17 years as the Chief Deputy in Hamilton County before spending a decade in international police work, was only elected for the first time in 2010. “What throws some people off is because two years prior to that, I was appointed to take Billy Long’s place. And the fact I have been in the department for so long and know so many people both in and out of government is another reason it seems like I’ve been sheriff for as long as I have.”
But perhaps the biggest reason of all is that the popular Hammond has gotten more accomplished than any other administration in memory. “I’m tremendously gratified that so many of the things we once dreamed have come true. We’ve been lucky in the fact my command staff hasn’t changed since I’ve been here. I was able to assemble a great group of professionals and, when nobody cares who gets the credit, the teamwork really comes out.
“The Sheriff’s Department is a huge part of county government. We have a budget of $30 million and a staff of over 400 people. I never thought I would say that,” he said. “We have three national accreditations and we are the only one in Tennessee with what’s called ‘The Triple Crown.’ That is a direct compliment to the men and women whose primary duty is public safety. Our crime reduction rates have been monumental but we are always looking for a better way, for a better tomorrow.”
Political insiders believe Hammond will win this year’s election in convincing fashion. “The first thing you learn in police work is that nothing comes easy,” he countered. “I believe our record of service, the results we have achieved to make the Chattanooga area safer than it once was, and our leadership team moving forward, each speak highly of the department but the voters have yet to decide. I hope they will give us the votes we need.”
Hammond’s biggest jewel is Aegis, the Law Enforcement Foundation of Greater Chattanooga. “In the book The Illiad, Homer describes the Aegis as the shield, or breastplate, of Athena and Zeus,” he explained. “In Hamilton County we actually have 10 police agencies – each with its own chief – so we have created a foundation where every agency that so desires can take advantage of the technology, specialized training and support they would not get any other way.
“My dream was to bring us all together to share every resource each of us has. The result is very visible. Every citizen in our area benefits – at least every one who behaves! – and we are really thrilled with what has taken place. Tom Edd Wilson heads that foundation and it just gets better and better.”
Asked point blank to identify his biggest problem, the answer came quick. “Prescription drug abuse is ravaging our nation. We have to do a better job with what has become a heart-breaking epidemic. Right behind that is another abuse – alcohol – and senseless deaths on our highways are high on the list that needs the most attention.
“The gang shootings in Chattanooga are more personal. I get sick to my stomach when a black kid kills another black kid. They are our next generation! I am eager for the Chattanooga Police Department to name a new chief because I know the Sheriff’s Department and our other law enforcement groups can work better with the city. I guarantee you we have tried and I’ll also guarantee you that when a new chief is hired I’ll show up with an olive branch because – it is real simple -- lives depend on it.”
The city of Chattanooga, perhaps fearful of a merged police force in the future, has rebuffed Hammond’s repeated efforts for mutual cooperation – which he regrets “because this isn’t about Jim Hammond or the Sheriff’s Department. We need everybody working in a concerted effort to battle drugs, drunk drivers, guns, robberies or whatever. If I am re-elected, the people of Chattanooga and Hamilton County have my word that I am willing to do whatever it takes for all of us to do better.”
Jim told me the greatest gift in his life was when John Cupp decided not to retain him as Chief Deputy. “I was crushed at the time but the 10 years I spent in international law enforcement let me see the big picture. I worked for three years with some of the top experts in the Middle East and the education was invaluable. I learned so much from those wonderful experiences.
“We are having a leadership seminar here this summer and our speaker is over the police network for all of Africa. I met him while in Haiti and he is a good friend. John Kroeker, who was the third-ranking police officer in Los Angeles before that, has incredible insight and his solutions will make it a day for area law officials to remember. This is what I mean when I speak about working together, about a team approach,” Hammond explained.
“Our SROs (school resource officers) are now up to 32 and I believe they play a vital role in the educational process. I believe we need them at all 70 of our county schools. We have a new program that is targeting 5th and 6th grade kids, not because they are bad but because if we can start out early, we’ll be able to save these kids when they get older. Every child matters to us.”
That hardly sounds like it is coming from a man who is approaching 70. “I don’t feel old at all,” he laughed. “I still exercise, eat right and take care of myself. But I’m also excited about the future, what we can do next that will best serve our public. I love coming to work and, while I wish our jails had far less business, I am pleased we have a county mayor and a County Commission that believes in me because I believe in them.”
Early voting in Hamilton County starts Monday. Goodness only knows we need Jim Hammond for another four years.