Hamilton Co. Sheriff Jim Hammond doles out powers of arrest, firearms to civilian-campaign contributors and ex-police officers fired for acting inappropriately
An ex-police officer fired for acting inappropriately with a couple of teenage boys is among 37 civilian special deputies who are given full arrest powers and authority to carry a firearm by Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond.
None of the civilian special deputies has to undergo law enforcement training, but they have the same authority as an officer in full uniform, wearing a badge and gun. They are required to qualify with a firearm once a year, even though they are not issued guns by the department.
The remainder — and vast majority — of the 128 people who hold special deputy commissions are officers in municipal police departments who need countywide arrest powers to pursue suspects beyond their jurisdictions.
But it’s the civilian cardholders who open up the sheriff’s department for potential abuse with their lack of training and screening, according to a police ethics expert.
“It appears as if law enforcement powers are given out to people who are not properly screened and selected, there is no accountability, and hence potential for a tremendous abuse that will impact the image the public has of their law enforcement agencies,” Haberfeld said.
Under state law, Hammond — like all sheriffs across Tennessee — has the authority to make as many deputies as he wants.
“The sheriff may appoint as many special deputies as the sheriff may think proper, on urgent occasions, or when required for particular purposes,” states the law, which dates back to 1870.
Most of the civilian special deputies hold public office, but Hammond, by special request, awarded nine cards to people at his own discretion. Three are private businessmen who contributed money to his campaign.
Former Chattanooga Police Department officer Jeff N. Chambers is also among the nine.
Chambers, who was fired in 2000, was issued a card in 2010 and still is on the list of commission cardholders.
In 2000, Chambers cited two teen boys for underage drinking at a party. He offered to rip up the citations if the boys performed acts for him. One was forced to walk along the roadway naked, then get into his patrol car, according to a Chattanooga police internal affairs report.
Hammond defended the cards he has issued.