Chattanooga Police Lieutenant Sean O'Brien Named Chief Of UTC Police

  • Thursday, April 18, 2024
Lt. Sean O'Brien
Lt. Sean O'Brien

Sean O’Brien, who has 24 years of law enforcement experience, has been selected as the new University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Associate Vice Chancellor for Public Safety and UTC Police Chief. Lt. O’Brien, who has worked for the Chattanooga Police Department (CPD) since 2007, will join UTC effective May 1, 2024.

He was in the news in 2010 when he was relieved of duty and arrested following a complaint of an assault that occurred at the Juvenile Detention Unit. Employees said they witnessed Officer O’Brien hit a handcuffed 14-year-old arrestee.

According to the complaint, the juvenile was seated in the intake hallway when an exchange of words occurred between the youth and Officer O’Brien. Shortly thereafter, O’Brien allegedly hit him on the head, and then pushed him to the wall. O’Brien has been charged with simple assault and was taken to the Hamilton County Jail. He was later reinstated to the police force.

In a related move, Matt Holzmacher has been appointed UTC Police Deputy Chief. Deputy Chief Holzmacher, a member of the UTC Police Department since 2010 and an administrative lieutenant since 2021, has been serving as interim police chief since November 2023 - when longtime UTC Chief of Police Robert Ratchford announced his retirement.

Lt. O’Brien is the recipient of a graduate-level certificate in executive protection from Henley-Putnam University (San Jose, California) and a master’s degree in human resources leadership and development from Seton Hall University (South Orange, New Jersey). His career in law enforcement includes a seven-year stint as a state trooper with the New Jersey State Police.

“This is a win-win for Chattanooga and UTC. Sean O’Brien is one of the finest officers at CPD, and he is incredibly deserving of this step up into departmental leadership,” said Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly. “CPD is a national leader in effective and responsive policing, so it’s no surprise that UTC looked to our police force to fill this position. The partnership between UTC and city government is crucial in all areas, but especially public safety. Both UTC and the City of Chattanooga will be safer and more responsive to the needs of the public thanks to this hire.”

Currently a lieutenant in the CPD’s Neighborhood Policing Bureau, Lt. O’Brien is the commander for the downtown Chattanooga area and is responsible for the delivery of police services in coordination with 12 shift supervisors and more than 60 police officers.

During his time with the CPD, he has served as Homeland Security Coordinator and actively partners with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to teach and present strategies related to active shooter response. He has served as president of the Fraternal Order of Police, representing 500-plus members in Hamilton County while developing and maintaining budgetary and parliamentary procedures to improve the sustainability of the organization.

Lt. O’Brien was the recipient of the Top Cop Award for acts of bravery during the July 16, 2015, terrorist attack in Chattanooga. His list of awards includes Chattanooga Police Department Officer of the Year (2019), Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Tennessee Big in Blue Brother of the Year (2017), and National Association of Police Organizations Citizens’ Choice Award (2016).

Former Chattanooga Police Department Police Chief David Roddy, now Hamilton County Government’s chief operating officer, served 26 years with the CPD before retiring in 2022.

“Sean O’Brien is one of the finest people and leaders I have ever known and lucky enough to call a friend,” Chief Roddy said. “I could not be more proud for Sean or more excited for the students and staff of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.”

Glenn Scruggs, the director of security and safety for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, spent 29 years with the CPD - rising to executive chief of police before retiring in November 2023.

“Having a leader like Sean there on campus, you’re going to have a steady hand at the wheel. You’re going to have someone well-versed in a plethora of disciplines and someone who can answer the bell when something happens,” Scruggs said. “UTC has a top-notch chief. He’s going to take care of you for many years to come, and I’m excited to see him get this opportunity.”

Col. Dereck Stewart, a teaching associate in the University of Tennessee’s Law Enforcement Innovation Center, retired from the Tennessee Highway Patrol in 2020 after 33 years of service.

“I just want to say what a tremendous choice UTC has made. You are really getting an exceptional leader,” Stewart said. “I met Sean last year at the Southeastern Leadership Academy and—from day one—I knew that he was a steadfast and strong member of the class. What I recognized about him right away is his calmness in how he goes about doing his business. It really shows a lot of confidence and strong leadership.”

Officials said, "Lt. O’Brien’s training and expertise in emergency management, community policing and active shooter response will be crucial as the University enhances its public safety plan."

The appointment will be finalized upon transferring his POST commission from CPD to UTC.

Last November, UTC Public Safety was reorganized to modernize the University’s strategy for mitigating public safety risks, streamline protocols and processes, reduce administrative costs and increase operational capacity.

UTC Public Safety includes UTC Police, Clery Compliance/Records Management, Emergency Management, Environmental Health and Safety, and Physical Security.

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