In late winter of 2019, at the request of Troy Brand, pastor of the Orchard Park Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Sheriff of the Hamilton County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Office started the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office Minority Relations Community Taskforce. The purpose of the taskforce was to begin solutions-oriented conversations with the Sheriff’s Department as one response to an excessive use of force incident that occurred on December 3, 2018, between a Sheriff’s deputy and a Hamilton County citizen. Brand, along with four Orchard Park Church members and five community members formed the task force.
The taskforce had six meetings with the Sheriff’s Office officials and 20 meetings on their own. In those meetings they discussed community engagement policies and programs that would improve relations between the department and Hamilton County minority citizens, and hiring and recruitment of minorities to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). The taskforce had a day-long orientation into the workings of the Sheriff’s Department, which afforded them a better understanding of and appreciation for the work the department does, and helped foster new relationships between the department and the community.
After a second excessive use of force incident, the taskforce made three recommendations to the Sheriff’s Office.
1. Create opportunities for more contact and dialogue between Sheriff’s deputies and community members; have a community meeting as soon as possible that allows for a constructive exchange of ideas.
2. Be deliberate about educating citizens about the risks, challenges, and procedures of police work through school programs, community meetings, the newspaper, and social media.
3. Participate in community bridge project in partnership with local churches and nonprofits in the county as a demonstration of the department’s willingness to serve its citizens.
The recommendations were received but not acted upon. Due to the pandemic, the taskforce was suspended. However, Brand continued to work on reforming the department. He joined the Chattanooga Clergy for Justice — a group of ministers from various denominations who seek to support and hold accountable the HCSO. Since joining the Clergy for Justice, the organization has made several attempts to meet with the Sheriff to discuss differences and solutions to resolving use of force incidents. Unfortunately, the Sheriff declined to meet every time. As a result, the Clergy for Justice filed a pattern-or-practice investigation with the Department of Justice and is currently waiting to hear back from them.
Brand does this kind of work in the community because he believes that mission embraces the Church’s double vocation of service to be “the salt of the Earth” and “the light of the world.” The Orchard Park Church’s congregation has set goals to turn down the volume in people’s lives so they can hear the Gospel clearly, be embedded in the city in a way that directly or indirectly influences everything that happens in the city, and be a congregation that has engaged pastors, members, and ministries. Working with the taskforce and the organization, Clergy for Justice falls in line with those goals.
South Central | January 2022