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Tenn. Police Department Faces 2010 Without Academy

Chattanooga Times/Free Press via YellowBrix

December 21, 2009

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The Chattanooga Police Department didn’t hire any new officers in 2009 and, because of city budget constraints, has no plans to do so during fiscal year 2010.

“Money could come from somewhere before the end of the 2009-2010 budget year,” police Chief Freeman Cooper said. “But I have no idea where that money might be coming from.”

The police department is short about 30 officers and could be down as many as 50 by the end of the fiscal year because of retirements, resignations and terminations, Chief Cooper said.

“We’re not suffering in day-to-day operations,” he said. “Even if we had an academy going, we’d be short that many on the street anyway. We’re 30 to 40 police officers down at some point in the year every year.”

Academy graduates usually fill those holes, but the department has frozen 29 officer positions and one sergeant post, he said. The most recent academy class graduated in February.

By the end of this year, as many as eight sergeant positions could be vacant, only one of which can’t be filled. A captain position also can be filled, Chief Cooper said. The promotions come with pay raises, he said, but they leave vacancies in the lower ranks.

He said he hopes to have an academy in mid-2010.

Investigator Toby Hewitt, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the shortage concerns police officers.

Promotions ripple through the department when promoted officers aren’t replaced, he said. Fewer officers on the street mean longer response times, and fewer investigators mean backed-up caseloads, Investigator Hewitt said.

“I think it would be a little bit of a morale booster to know they’re starting an academy and better days are ahead,” he said. “It would be good to know help is coming.”

City spokesman Richard Beeland said police staffing levels will be discussed in spring budget hearings.

“If there’s a funding opportunity available to us to explore having an academy before (the next fiscal year), then on the recommendation of the chief of police, if that’s something he wants to pursue or sees it’s necessary, by all means we’ll pursue it,” Mr. Beeland said.

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 472: Total sworn positions available
  • 30: Approximate shortfall of officers
  • 29: Size of most recent academy graduate class
  • 29: Unfunded, unfilled officer positions
  • 1: Frozen, unfunded sergeant position

Source: Chattanooga Police Department


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