Message To The County Commission About The Sheriff's Budget - And Response

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Commissioners, I am writing to you, not only as an employee, but as a voter. I am happily married and have two boys, 11 and 7. I have had the privilege and honor of serving the citizens of Hamilton County for over 15 years. I am currently a detective with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division.

I served as a corrections officer in the jail with Commissioner Beck when he worked there, and it has been my pleasure to speak to some of you at numerous neighborhood watch meetings as part of my current assignment. My words to you come based on one simple truth. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is my family. Yes, as with any family, there is always a little dysfunction, but at the end of the day, we want what is best for each other and the department. Likewise, we are inherently accountable to each other. The decisions of one can have a direct effect on another.

There was a time when people were standing in line waiting to work for this office. That was demolished with the indictment of Billy Long. It has been a long road to recovery from that disgrace. People would probably attribute that recovery to Sheriff Hammond’s administration and maybe that is true to an extent, but I look beyond the big seat downtown. It is the dedicated men and women of the Sheriff’s Office, both civilian and sworn, that make this department what it is. The ones that come in and do their duty and more, even with no hope of pay raises. It is their strength that gets Hamilton County through the daily grind, the Billy Longs, and the tornadoes.

For too long these dedicated warriors have continually done more with less. You, gentlemen, are now at a crossroad. The sheriff has presented his budget to you and as stewards of Hamilton County’s interests, I understand the initial reaction of taking a frugal approach. I would like to address the items that have been mentioned in the media and, if you will consider it for a moment, give you my perspective.

JAIL – I worked in the current jail building for four and a half years. It was an old building even back then. (On a personal note, the jail was actually built the year I was born). Even then we were working understaffed so as an axiom, I can say that the jail needs more personnel. As to the rest of the jail needs, I haven’t worked there since 2003 but I have regular contact with corrections officers and it sounds like there are needs to be met.

NEW CARS – My county car has over 120,000 miles on it. That’s low compared to some of the cars patrol is driving. There are few or no spare vehicles so if one breaks down, it immediately affects the deputy or detective’s ability to do his/her job. There are vehicles with dents and scratches and other wear and tear that adds up when it gets handed down from officer to officer over the years. A beat up raggedy old car is not conducive to presenting a professional appearance that is demanded of our office. This is most definitely a need.

4 NEW DETECTIVES – Full disclosure?! We need like 10. Not only because of the sheer volume of cases that we deal with, but because some cases are a lot more involved and consuming of an investigator’s time (i.e. homicides, child abuse, fraud, etc.). “More detectives” means less of a caseload but also lightens the load for many detectives that wear more than one hat within the department.

Last but certainly not least, THE BRIDGE PLAN – The extent of my knowledge of this Bridge Plan doesn’t go far beyond “Bridge Plan good, current plan bad.” I can say this: I know a lot of the older employees and I have a lot of respect for them and their contributions to this agency. Many of them are still working because they don’t have 30 years yet. Passing this Bridge Plan would bring two things. First, there would be a sort of “mass exodus” of all the older eligible employees. They can hang their hats and enjoy their retirement years at a reasonable age. This is what they have been working for all along isn’t it? Isn’t that what you would want? To be able to spend time with your family without the hassle of deadlines, meetings, and putting out proverbial fires? No one got in to this field to get rich. We want to know that we are supported and taken care of after so many years of taking care of others. We are not an old shoe to be cast aside and forgotten or thrown into the yard for the dog to chew. These men and women have more than earned what this Bridge Plan offers. What a gift you are now in a position to give them for their many years of service. Second, there would be an infusion of new blood into the veins of the department. Positions would open that implant a fresh approach to something that may have gone stagnant or stale. You will never have a better law enforcement agency than one in which the employees are happy and motivated about doing their job. In any job, people have a need to feel like the job is going somewhere. The Bridge Plan, as best as I can tell, keeps the line moving.

I am not a politician. I have no hidden agenda. It’s all here for you in black and white. I’m a husband, a father, and a cop that likes helping those that need help, and putting the bad guy in jail. I am exhorting you to, please, for our families, for our Sheriff’s Office, for our county family, make this budget happen. If nothing else on this list is feasible, then just the Bridge Plan. We are dependent upon you to take care of us. You’re the ones making the decisions. This is the right thing to do.

Respectfully, Detective James Gienapp 

* * * 

Kudos to Sheriff Hammond for bringing this issue to the forefront. Any plan that benefits the front line officers/detectives and rewards them for their years of dedicated service has my support. The men and women of the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office are asking the County Commission to restore manpower to safe levels and approve the Bridge Plan.   

There is not a more important issue facing the Sheriffs Office right now then the severe personnel shortages. The manpower problem has resulted in officers having to work double shifts in the jail, cover multiple districts alone on patrol, and cause cases to back up in CID/Fugitive. The only reason the ship isn't sinking is due to the exceptional performance and dedication of the officers, patrolmen, and detectives. This challenge has to be addressed soon. With the upcoming retirements, it will only get worse. The turn over rate in the jail is epic and many talented policemen are leaving the county for better jobs with other agencies. In CID alone, we are going to loose at least five seasoned detectives to retirement by the end of the year.  

The time has come.  

The officers of the Sheriffs Office have always provided the citizens of Hamilton County with fair and professional service. They have patrolled your neighborhoods, provided comfort and justice to the victims of crime, walked the halls of our schools, maintained order in our courts, and kept watch over the prisoners at the jail. They have always been there for you and your families. They now ask you to be there for us and our families.  

Additional officers will provide safer conditions in the jail and relieve the stress currently put on all divisions. Adopting the "Bridge Program" will start to save the taxpayers money almost right away. The numbers Sheriff Hammond has provided are solid. As the higher paid officers retire after 25 years of service, the ranks will open up to hire more new officers. As new officers come in, those who have earned it will be promoted to fill the ranks in CID. The positions stay filled and manpower is kept at safe levels.  

It is now in the hands of the County Commission. I ask only that the politics be pushed aside and that this issue be given fair consideration. The men and women of the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office deserve a safe work environment and a decent retirement after 25 years of service.  

I agree with Sheriff Hammond and Detective Gienapp. This is the right thing to do.  

Detective Anthony Wilson
20 years service
Hamilton County Sheriffs Office Fugitive Division


Steve Smith Is The Kind Of Man We Need In Office

I am not an attorney.  I have no professional relationship with Steve Smith.  I don't know anything about the roles and responsibilities of the office of pubic defender.  I simply know the man and his family.   Steve and I serve together on the Administrative Council at Signal Mountain United Methodist Church.  Steve is a family man, a thoughtful ... (click for more)

Re-Elect My Boss, Gwen Tidwell

I would like to take this opportunity to ask that you re-elect my boss, Gwen Tidwell as the Criminal Court clerk for another four years.  Ms. Tidwell has served as Criminal Court  lerk since 1994 and has done a great job and she would like to continue doing so. Since she was elected in 1994 she has made significant changes in the office to help us do a better job ... (click for more)

DA Looking Into Issue Of County Commission Candidate's Campaign Sending Filled-Out Requests For Absentee Ballot To Elderly Voters

The District Attorney's Office has been provided with documents that a County Commission candidate's campaign sent filled-out requests for absentee ballots to elderly voters. Kerry Steelman, election administrator, said there have been four instances in which such requests came from the Elect John Brooks campaign. He said state law says in Section 2-6-202:  (3) A person ... (click for more)

Graham Says County School-City Lawsuit Settlement "Stinks," But County Commission Approves It

The County Commission on Wednesday approved a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Hamilton County Schools against the city of Chattanooga, though several commissioners said they were not happy with the deal and Commissioner Joe Graham said it "stinks." Commissioner Graham was the lone no vote. He was joined by Commissioner Tim Boyd in a failed effort to defer it a week. ... (click for more)

Mocs Picked First In SoCon Polls

The Chattanooga Mocs football team is the pick of litter in the Southern Conference. Coming off its first league title since 1984, the SoCon coaches and media deemed the Mocs the team to beat in 2014.   “It means we have good players,” Head Coach  Russ Huesman  said. “There is a long way to go from now until late November (when the regular season ends). ... (click for more)

Soddy-Daisy's Wright Commits To MTSU Baseball

Soddy-Daisy’s Andy Wright, a rising senior and dual-threat player, has made a non-binding verbal commitment to play baseball at Middle Tennessee State University. Wright, a pitcher/third baseman, chose the Conference USA Blue Raiders over Belmont, Air Force, Navy, UT-Martin and Carson-Newman. “I’m glad to get this (decision) off my back so I can enjoy my senior year,” Wright ... (click for more)