City Council To Get Report On State Legislation On Police Review Committees

Tuesday, February 19, 2019 - by Gail Perry
Chattanooga’s City Council members, along with Police Chief David Roddy, are working to create a public safety committee. At the council’s strategic planning meeting on Tuesday afternoon, discussion took place about who should be on the committee and when and how to establish it.

The Tennessee legislature is in the process of creating a policy. Knowing that it will apply to all cities and counties in the state, the council members were divided over whether to move forward with a plan or wait to see what the state determines.
Tom Lee, the city’s lobbyist, will brief the council next week on the legislature’s plan.

In the meantime, the council has obtained policies from other cities to get helpful information about how they review incidents involving the police and how they set up their citizens review committees. Also, Chief Roddy has researched plans from around the country, and told the council that there is no “national best practice.” One model is to appoint a representative from each district.  Another is to appoint representatives from different segments of the community. "We need to find a model that will represent all segments of our community," he said.

Chairman of the Council Ken Smith said he would like to see people on the committee selected by their backgrounds, professions and experience such as a social worker and a former judge who could provide various perspectives. He said that would be more beneficial than merely asking someone to serve on a board.

Before any appointments are made, they must understand that serving on this committee would be a serious commitment and require a lot of effort, said Councilman Chip Henderson. They would be allowed only to miss a certain amount of meetings. There would also be a learning curve, said Chief Roddy. The educational component would involve training to learn the policies involved and rules and regulations. Councilman Henderson said establishing the policies should be done before making any appointments.

Policies are very important, said Chairman Smith and there must be a way to enforce it. The policy must be followed to the “T” he said. What other people perceive is appropriate will be important, he said. He also suggested having “a different set of eyes, other than one officer being on the committee.”

No matter how it is structured, it will be up to the police chief to review the files and for employees of the police department to do the right thing, said council member Demetrus Coonrod. She said that community perception is that the council does not hear what they are saying, and a lot of times they do not understand what is being done. Some of them do not want to see officers on the committee because “who will they report to?” she said.

There is a hybrid model, said Chief Roddy, that would involve both volunteers and a hired full time position, who would not report to the police chief but the information would come to the department which would impose mediation or disciplinary actions. There should be external quality control, said Councilman Henderson.

It is important that the officers should have due process, said the chief. After an incident, the city gets in an uproar, he said, because it seems as if it takes an extended period of time to process complaints. But, he said, all officers go through the same process. Expecting a resolution “tomorrow” is not realistic." We will not ever meet that expectation," he said because it is a lengthy process.

Council member Coonrod said she would like the matter to be on the ballot. Other council members said they do not want to wait until 2020 before setting a plan in motion.

Another topic at the planning meeting originated with a request from Councilwoman Coonrod concerning non-owner occupied short term vacation rentals. She said people come into the Highland Park neighborhood that she represents, many coming from out of town, and buy houses for the purpose of running a hotel. Whole blocks are turning into B&Bs, she said. The outside investors are also taking away affordable housing. “We need to make sure it’s still a community to live in,” she said.

The current practice is if even one neighbor has a concern, they can come before the council during the approval process, said Councilman Henderson. "We regulate by not approving," he said. Moving forward, there may be discussion about an amendment that would only approve only owner-occupied VRBOs.

Chairman Smith has added an option to a resolution regarding a public art strategic plan that has been before the council. He said that the alternate plan which has been added will allow the council to approve the plan without any obligation for funding.

Equitable funding for paving throughout all nine districts was also discussed. Chip Henderson said recently, the council has increased funding from $1.5 million to $6 million. He said he has concern for what will happen after the next election. Disrepair of the streets has been caused by 12 years of neglect, he said, and he asked how to prevent that from happening again. His goal is to do something permanent.  There must be reasons for what the council is doing, said Council member Carol Berz. She suggested the possibility of requiring reports to base decisions on in order to make sure sidewalks and roads are in safe and good shape.

Kenny Elwood, the city’s affordable housing specialist, reported to the council that he is now taking applications year round for volunteers for making housing improvements. Last summer in a period of three weeks, around 900 student volunteers from eight states came to Chattanooga and made improvements such as interior and exterior painting and replacing steps and ramps at 90 homes. This year, he said, he is reviewing 102 projects. He thanked the council for supporting the work and said that the residents are really impacted and the city also benefits from the volunteers visiting and staying in Chattanooga during that time.

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