Open Letter To Chattanooga Police Chief Celeste Murphy - And Response (2)

  • Tuesday, June 14, 2022

When I arrived in Chattanooga my first thoughts about the city were how beautiful the mountains and the river are and my second thought was how lawless it seemed here. It seemed like a giant frat party of rednecks and gangstas.

At first I put the lawlessness feeling down to the fact that we moved from the Washington, D.C. area which probably has the highest count of law enforcement personnel of any area in the U.S., but it wasn’t necessarily about cops per square mile, it was a feeling of the ‘Wild West’ or anything goes as long as you don’t get caught in the act.

We began noticing the lack of police visibility and, even when I did see the police at The Strut or Riverbend, they were always huddled together four, five and six all talking and laughing together like they were at an all cop pool party.

I also noticed no cops on bikes or on horseback in park areas (there’s no better crowd control than cops on horses) and also there was a general lack of eye contact or friendly engagement with citizens.

We also noticed a complete lack of traffic enforcement. No enforcement of illegal modifications of cars and trucks and I’m still astonished and disgusted by how loud the cars and trucks are in this city and I’m profoundly angry at how fast people drive their absurdly loud cars within the city.

Traffic enforcement is the first line of defense for the citizens of any city. There have been countless deaths and injuries incurred by pedestrians and bicyclists that have gone unreported by our local media for fear of disrupting the flow of tourism. This has to stop now.

Please get these lawbreakers off the streets. You will be surprised at how quickly traffic will calm and how much it will quell anxiety of pedestrians and tourists alike and capture other crimes in progress.

The police department in our city has consistently been reactive instead of proactive and that has been Chattanooga's biggest problem. Enforcement simultaneously begins from both the top down and the bottom up.

John Mathna

* * *

Mr. Mathna,

I was deeply disappointed in reading your "Open Letter to Chattanooga Police Chief Celeste Murphy" and would like to address you directly. I am confused on why you decided to address this complaint in an open forum, especially when there are avenues in place for citizens to have their grievances addressed in a more direct manner. When people fail to seek out the proper channels for discussion it more or less comes off as the "old man yelling at the clouds" routine (this is a Simpson reference, FYI). 

The Chattanooga that you described as the "Wild West" is not the city that I am familiar with. Metrics from police reporting as well as the board of tourism do not align with your perspective. To say that Chattanooga is akin to the "Wild West" and suffers from "lawlessness" is a bit dramatic. I only use the word "dramatic" because in reading your letter you aroused concern that my beloved city had fallen to masked bandits on horseback looking for the next stagecoach to take down. The problem I found was that your chief complaint was about loud cars and illegal vehicle modifications. I am not sure the comparison of increased traffic enforcement to a troubling period of time in history when there were no cars meets the mark. 

If there is one thing I have learned in my career as a police officer is that the motto, "The customer is always right" does not always apply. It certainly does not apply when the public applies unwarranted and unknowledgeable complaints against the hard-working men and women of the Chattanooga Police Department. I have worked the Riverbend/Strut for many years and never have I ever felt like I was at an "all cop pool party".  #1 there's no pool #2 I have never attended a party where I felt the need to wear dark polyester, a kevlar vest and 20 pounds of gear all the while sipping on my fifteenth Mountain Berry Powerade. You will have to forgive these officers if in the midst of all this they find a moment of humor. The reason why you see these officers in groups of four or more is a tactical consideration when dealing with large-scale events.

My suggestion to you is for you to attend these events and just have a good time, stop worrying about whether or not the officer made eye contact with you or why you don't see horses (FYI, the Chattanooga Police Department hasn't had a mounted patrol in over a decade). If you find yourself not having a good time at these events it may be time to consider that you have simply outgrown them and attendance is not mandatory. The great thing about the city of Chattanooga is that there is an abundance of activities for all ages.

No matter what activity you decide to partake in you can rest assured that the Chattanooga Police Department will be there to provide a fun and safe environment. 

Curtis Penney 

* * * 

I don't agree with Mr. Mathna's opinion, and I also don't agree with Officer Penney about the police department's open policy in place to address citizen complaints or grievances without fear of retaliation.

Those "policies" certainly weren't in place when I became a target of police retaliation after attempting to report problem officers or even file a complaint. 

Unless this is something new and not just window dressing for appearance sake, it's just never been the case as far back as I can remember. 

Now, I honestly believe Officer Penney is one of the "good guys" on the force who at least make every attempt to be fair. I've followed him over the years too. And he seems fairly decent, honorable and an all around really good cop who's not selective in who should be favored over who doesn't matter. But all in all, I've just never known such a policy actually in place with teeth. 

As I've said in the past, I've had family members white, black and other in the field, but none of that seemed to matter when it should have mattered the most. It certainly didn't protect me from retaliation.

Brenda Washington 

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