Jim Hammond will talk to members of the Hamilton County School Board on Thursday afternoon and, just like any police officer in the United States, he will request that everybody “stay in their own lane.” Some school board members tend to believe they need to help decide the best methods of protecting our children. They believe this is one of the things they were elected to do in guiding their only employee – the superintendent. That is not so – not a one ran for a seat on the school board to stop shootings.
Conversely, Sheriff Hammond has close to 500 employees whose single focus every day is the same: safety or, if you please, to stop shootings. That’s his calling. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's … “
Hammond said on Tuesday that he understands and appreciates their eagerness to help but believes that he was elected by the same voters to maintain safety, as well as law and order, and knows – from experience -- any “committee” would be a mistake.
This is most especially true with as many balls still being juggled in the air by state and national officials following the Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, Fla. “There were too many mistakes made in not stopping the Parkland shooter,” said Hammond. “There were too many red flags. I like to think that wouldn’t happen here, that somebody would ‘See Something, Say Something’ … all of America should know it takes all of us to be diligent.”
To be blatantly specific, the Sheriff would hope the School Board would request that he direct the safety efforts at our public schools. It is believed the state legislature will soon approve measures that will mandate sheriffs across the state have such authority. In Memphis and Nashville the sheriffs there already have officers in every school. “But the smaller counties don’t … that is a huge concern.”
Hammond also said, “I believe we need an armed officer in uniform at every school in the country – not just counties. Every sheriff in the state agrees but the smaller ‘distressed’ counties can’t afford it. Right now we have officers in every high school and middle school,” he said, “but if I am tasked with putting an officer in every school, it will cost the sheriff’s office an additional $4 million right now.”
Currently there are School Resource Officers in 29 of Hamilton County’s 78 schools. All are under the guise of the Sheriff’s Department. The city of Chattanooga furnishes two officers and the Hamilton County Department of Education provides two more. The other 30 – including supervisory personnel – are provided by the Sheriff.
Governor. Bill Haslam has just pledged $30 million for school security. There is additional legislation being expressed through the legislature but Hammond is in his 10th year as sheriff “and let’s just say I’ve heard a lot of rumors.”
“I don’t think there is any doubt that we have reached a place no one ever predicted. It used to be that school fires were horrible but as we learned safety measures and fire drills, we overcame that. Now we have a new challenge and we’ll confront it.”
As Hammond talks to other sheriffs across the country, the consensus is the best preventative is an armed School Resource Officer. “But if I was told today to fill each school, next January would be the earliest it could be done. Between the police academy (8-10 weeks) in Donelson, our in-service training, and all else, hiring a police officer today is incredibly hard. It’s a tough job and it takes an individual who could probably make more money in another field.”
Hammond said the Parkland shooting will not be the last, not by any stretch. “I can’t tell you how many hours that I’ve spent on school safety in the past month. It is the top priority of my command staff because that is what Hamilton County wants. Once again, this is what we do. The school board is doing a good job, I think, in getting our public education back on track. But I need to say this: after 40 years in law enforcement, our department is better than it has ever been. We know what we are doing.”
“I had coffee with (Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy) yesterday and brought him up to speed about what we are doing with the schools. There is a group in Washington D.C. who specialize in school safety and security and we are arranging a seminar here as fast as we can, sometime in April.”
Hammond has already met with School Supt. Bryan Johnson and requested counselors at every school as well. “When I was working with juveniles, the first thing I would do is visit the first and second grade teachers. They can tell you immediately which kids are hungry, dirty, stay out of school too many days … If you don’t burden a counselor with tests and non-related tasks, you would marvel at what they will confide in a counselor. To me that counselor is your number-one tool in helping children.”
Hammond said Johnson was amazed there weren’t more counselors in the system. “I think we need more than one SRO in our larger schools, too. Take East Hamilton … there are 1,400 students there and there should be two, if not three, for maximum efficiency.”
But we’ll get to that. Our over-arching goal is for the School Board to put their faith in our sheriff, not to mention the other 350,000 in Hamilton County who yearn for good leadership to produce healthy results. If we start squabbling, that’s blood in the water for all the sharks. Remember when you were a kid: “C’mon bro … let Jesse James rob the bank.”
* * *
* -- “Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere.” -- Ronald Reagan
* -- “Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character.” --- Robert E. Lee
* -- “In my house I'm the boss, my wife is just the decision maker." — Woody Allen
* -- “In the matter of boots, I defer to the authority of the bootmaker.” – Mikhail Bakunin in “God and the state.”
* -- “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy