I’ve grown weary of the way things are done in our city.
Last week, J.R. Reed, the Chief of the East Ridge Police Department, was terminated after 28 years of service to our city. Reed had been on administrative leave while an investigation into charges of lack of leadership, mishandling money in the property and evidence room, and failing to maintain updated policies and manuals.
I was told initially when Reed was placed on suspension, and multiple times subsequently, that this investigation would be conducted by outside agencies, including the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), the state Comptroller’s Office, the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) and an outside auditor.
On Tuesday, when East Ridge News Online was granted access to the investigative file on the justification for firing Reed, not one single document denoting the participation of any of those agencies was present.
Officials said that the HCSO did not participate because there was no criminal allegations made against Reed. I was told that the comptroller’s office did not get involved because the money in property/evidence was all accounted for. I was told that MTAS was hip deep in the process of something called a “strategic assessment” of the police department and an external audit of the ERPD by the entity would take months.
So, after three months of limbo, Reed was officially terminated on March 13, 2019. A six-page letter of termination explained the reasons.
What was in the file? A three-page document accounting for 24,000 in cash that was languishing in the property/evidence room in violation of department policy. The accounting consisted of a person’s name from which the money was taken, the amount taken, and the date the money was taken.
Oddly enough, the vast majority of that cash was confiscated prior to J.R. Reed becoming Chief of Police in 2014. The earliest entry goes back to 2001. As best I could tell, only about $3,500 of cash in property/evidence was improperly kept during Reed’s tenure.
Also in the file was a brief synopsis – in the form of bullet points – of interviews conducted with high-ranking members of command staff. At least three of those interviewed made no secret that they coveted the job as chief of police.
The criticism of Reed by those interviewed ran the spectrum: Reed lacked leadership skills; he failed to manage investigations; he failed to update policies, he failed to follow up on grievances; there was no sense of mission or vision; he was not the face of the department, and didn’t brief the media; he was emotional; he held a grudge; the department was “a rudderless ship;” he “attempted to be the IT guy.”
Any interviews with former City Manager Scott Miller and Finance Director Diane Qualls were absent.
In the termination letter, Assistant City Manager Kenny Custer asserts that Miller did everything within his power to help Reed be a better Chief. Yet, no documentation of those efforts was in the file.
I believe Custer’s firing of Reed hinges on this one statement that Custer wrote in the termination letter: ” … (Y)our sergeants, lieutenants, and officers within the Department have confirmed they have no confidence in you as their leader and I cannot have the City’s first responders being led by a chief they do not trust or have confidence in to lead them.”
If that’s the case, and I believe there is much truth in that statement, Custer should have demoted Reed. Reed was a career cop in East Ridge. Put him back in patrol and have him investigate traffic crashes, his area of expertise. If he refused to go back to work, terminate him for not showing up.
That is a valid reason for firing anybody.
Let me point out what J.R. Reed did accomplish during his tenure as Chief of the East Ridge Police Department. He hired more than two-dozen police officers, effectively doubling the number of boots on the ground.
Reed deliberately partnered with surrounding law enforcement agencies, including the Chattanooga Police Department, HCSO, and our law enforcement agencies to the south. No longer was ERPD an island unto itself.
He spearheaded the effort to put computers in all police cars. Under his tenure all police officers received body cameras to wear on patrol, which contributed to transparency and protected officers against claims of injustice, and those in custody against potential abuse.
According to the TBI’s “Crime in Tennessee” report of 2017, the last year available, the ERPD had a crime clearance rate of 44 percent, a double-digit jump over the previous year.
That is pretty incredible when you are overseeing a department with low morale and lack of leadership.
Just today, I saw on the television news that the ERPD was asking for help in apprehending the person/persons responsible for a rash of mailboxes being vandalized in the Marietta Street area.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel real good about the changes at the very top of the the police department.