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Murphy tapped as police chief, sensitive to abuse by cops in Atlanta career

Celeste Murphy, leaving city hall, is being hired as Chattanooga’s police chief. She has a two-decade police career in Atlanta and says being hired here fulfills her highest wishes. (Photo David Tulis)
Members of Chattanooga city council mingle with guests and mayoral staff at the announcement by Mayor Tim Kelly that he is naming Celeste Murphy chief of police. (Photo David Tulis)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022 — Celeste Murphy of Atlanta is named chief of police in Chattanooga with vetting by a national police reform group and quiet suggestions that shabby policework and injustice by officers will not be tolerated.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 96.9 FM

Mayor Tim Kelly says he selected the Atlanta deputy chief of 25 years experience over three others. Chief Murphy will run a department of about 500 cops.

Chief Murphy, mother of four children, is mindful of the poor reputation police have, especially among minorities. She is black and has a relative “who died in police custody and ended up being the wrong person — shouldn’t’ve been in custody. And to be a person who was, at that time, a high-ranking official in the police department, and I wasn’t able to help, I know how that feels like for families in a similar situation.”

Chief Murphy says she wants to bring “humanity back into the law enforcement profession.” Police are responsible for many homicides in America; in the past year they’ve shot dead 1,100 people, according to a Washington Post database. 

At a press Q&A she says, “Yes,” that she will read an administrative notice to the city four years and two days ago that seeks to end traffic stops not authorized in state law.  The Tennessee code applies to commercial users — truck drivers, bus operators, cabbies, haulers, loggers, dumptruck operators and others whose principal place of business is the public right of way. Such people involved in taxable activities under privilege are called drivers and operators.

The city is ignoring the notice — intended to spare harm to African-Americans, other minorities, the poor as well as everybody else — and made no reported changes in traffic stop protocols. Doing so would make Chattanooga a sanctuary city from such abuse common elsewhere in Tennessee.

Traffic encounters are the most dangerous cops have with the public. The administrative notice indicates officers who enforce the trucking law on nontrucking users of the road — especially after being subject to notice — are legally vulnerable personally because they knowingly and intentionally act without authority to make criminal arrests for what are actually technical or administrative wrongs.

Mayor Kelly praises Chief Murphy for “a lifelong commitment to civil rights and community policing. *** Her career suggests she cares deeply about community. She’s authentic and she leads by example.”

Militarization, beatings, ‘testilying’

It’s not immediately clear if Chief Murphy will be a reformer, one who wants to save the police function from further erosion and disesteem.

The Police Executive Research Forum is mentioned several times for its role in the hiring process.

PERF has worked for decades to reform police departments by reducing raw violence, seeking to change the ethos of officers from belligerent occupiers to peacekeeping neighbors. PERF’s Guiding Principles on the Use of Force have had a strong effect on policing. “Can We Train Cops to be ‘Problem-Solvers’ Instead of Warriors?” asks author Chuck Wexler in the headline of a 2021 essay

Among the evils that mark policing in Chattanooga and other cities are its militarization, with officers appearing militant, aggressive and combat ready; heavy training for violence, with the average U.S. police agency giving 153 hours training in violence and 16 for de-escalation and crisis intervention; beatings and profanity such as that by officer Ben Piazza January 2019 of traveler Fredrico Wolfe; line-in-the-sand thinking that causes disproportionately violent police conduct such as executions; rejection of the Miranda rule during arrests and lying to the public about what constitutes arrest; universal rejection by city cops of the bill of rights ban on warrantless arrests and the parallel rejection of T.C.A. § 40-7-103, the warrantless arrest by officer statute; piggish police work subsidized by the longstanding plea-bargain mill of the Neal Pinkston DA’s office, where dirty cops’ work is denied a public airing in trial by jury; violation of the trucking law at T.C.A. § Title 55, motor and other vehicles, by which cops poach on authority of the department of revenue and safety to generate police “business”; charge stacking and overcharging; and failing to show in court hearings, as in the case of Diana Watt, dragged from her car in a Title 55 enforcement action.

Cops often believe that if a lethal mistake is to be made in an encounter with the citizen, let it be as against the citizen and not the cop, as the goal of every officer is to “get home at night.” Warrior cops do not use space, time and cover to de-escalate, but follow the dangerous and mechanical “continuum of force” idea that makes police belligerent and forceful even if just standing at ease.

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