The longtime law enforcement officer delved into several topics, but the one with the most sobering tone about our Cleveland hometown’s future is an action that is taking place in Chattanooga. Newly elected Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke recently announced he wants to hire 40 additional officers for that city’s police department.
If the municipality’s budget can support such an expansion, it could be a great stride toward crime prevention and law enforcement response within an inner city that needs the help.
For Chattanoogans, such an expanded crime-fighting presence is good news. Not only could it reduce that city’s crime numbers, it might force many of the bad guys — notably gangs, among others — to seek new turf that lies outside the jurisdiction of the larger police force.
For Clevelanders and Bradley Countians, such an action is bad news. Over the past few years, we’ve already seen Chattanooga-based crime spill northwest into our community. The numbers could now grow.
Certainly, that’s not to say we didn’t already have our own problems. As we have said before, Cleveland — like any municipality our size — has its personal battle to wage against crime whether it comes as armed robberies, burglaries, assaults, theft, shootings, arson and yes, even homicide ... the most recent of which came just 1 1/2 weeks ago. Although its origin reportedly was domestic, violence is violence — regardless of who pulls the trigger or whatever type of lethal weaponry is used.
As an increased law enforcement presence in Chattanooga runs more and more thugs out of the Hamilton County city, many inevitably will bring their troubled lifestyles to other communities. Cleveland is one of the most likely targets, not because of any less law enforcement professionalism here but because of convenience. A 30-mile drive up Interstate 75 is of little matter to those whose misguided actions keep them on the wrong side of the law.
Some might choose Dalton, Ga. Others might prefer more distant venues like Athens, Madisonville or Sweetwater.
The most recent known example of Chattanoogans bringing their violence to Cleveland came July 28 with the shootings at the Luv 2 Dance Studio on 20th Street. Two people received minor injuries as bullets struck two vehicles and a nearby residence. The violence took place at 2 a.m. on a Sunday as a boisterous party was ending. Reportedly, as many as 300 attended.
The facility was rented by a Chattanooga man. The shooting suspect is also a Chattanooga man who already faced criminal warrants in that city. On Aug. 11, he was taken into custody by Chattanooga SWAT after a two-hour standoff at the city’s East Lake apartments. Eventually, he was to be transfered to the Bradley County jail to face the shooting charges here.
Since the Cleveland shooting, the studio owner — in negotiation with Assistant District Attorney General Stephen Hatchett and Bradley County Circuit Court Judge Larry Puckett — has implemented a whole new set of guidelines by which the studio operates. Although we would have liked to have seen restrictions on the facility’s use by outside groups, we recognize such actions could be difficult to enforce.
All of this adds up to one undeniable truth. As Cleveland grows, and as Chattanooga law enforcement further pressures its undesirables to leave town, the Cleveland Police Department and Bradley County Sheriff’s Office will need all the support possible to beef up their own presence.
Such actions must include, but not be limited to: More patrol officers whose recruitment should lean on the side of experience, increased training, appropriate incentives that encourage retainment of proven and trustworthy patrolmen and women, and perhaps most importantly, closer working partnerships and cooperative relationships with the Cleveland City Council and Bradley County Commission.
It also will require this: community support, but such commitment can come only with unconditional professionalism, and earned public trust, within all ranks of the law enforcement agencies themselves.
Regardless of its perpetrators, or their towns of origin, crime will happen.
But any community with a vision focused on the safety of its residents assuredly will be the destination for the good oranges, and not the bad apples, of society.