Tough-talking Harris joins police oversight board

Sylvester Harris of East Chattanooga is named to the city’s new civilian police oversight board. (Photo David Tulis)

Sylvester Harris, a tough-talking former iron worker, is joining the civilian police oversight board in Chattanooga and expresses concern about the training of police officers that draws them toward violent solutions against the people.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

Councilman Anthony Byrd nominated Mr. Harris with council approval to the board that will review internal affairs investigations against cops serving Mayor Andy Berke under the authority of chief David Roddy.

Mr. Harris says he wants to do something about the training disparities which across the country strongly favor the use of force and violence as against the graces of negotiation, de-escalation and treating.

He demands accountability from cops.

“When an officer is not conducting the kind of accountability that he should, we have to remove that officer. Because everybody should not live it fear. Like it says on the side of the police [car], ‘Let none live in fear,’ so we should let none be living in fear of the police.”

‘Not be scared’

“We should be able to call the police or protection, and not be scared that we’re not going to be represented the correct way. And that’s not a black issue or a white issue. It’s a human issue.”

The effort to make policing less punitive and ugly is led by Chuck Wexler of Police Executive Research Forum. Mr. Wexler’s 2016 analysis of police problems indicates that around the country officers get about 50 hours of training on shooting, beating, gassing, tasings, clubbings manhandling people and combat but only about 15 hours in activities that may be less law enforcing and more social work, even ministry and aid.

“We’re going to have to do a little something different in that area,” Mr. Harris says. “A little bit more time in training the officer on trying to make people — understanding people a lot better.”

Mr. Harris wants the group to being blacks and whites closer together, “get together as one, live together as one.”

Police are not capable of overseeing themselves, Mr. Harris contends. “We can do better by somebody on the outside looking in. And those crooked cops that’s going from state to state, that has records a mile long or abuse and things that they shouldn’t’ve done — and then they go to another state and get another job — I think we’re going to have to start doing background checks and looking at the people’s background and see what they’ve done in other places.”

Also named to the board is a former Navy and General Electric retiree Michael Watkins.

“I want to *** look at the police department, not only their investigations but also their honesty in handling investigations,” Mr. Watkins says. He wants to review training of officers and consult with city council about improvements.

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