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Ralph Henry Cothran

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Big Ralph: Reflections of a Black Police Chief
Carl A. Patton  More Info

About the Chattanooga Police Department

On December 20, 1839, the Tennessee legislature passed "an act to establish the town of Chattanooga in the county of Hamilton, and to incorporate the inhabitants thereof." The names of Chattanooga’s early constables are not known, since the city’s records were destroyed by Union forces during the War Between the States, but it is known that constables were appointed by the city councils until 1852.

 

By 1851, Chattanooga had outgrown its primitive form of government and was a thriving community. The state legislature, feeling that the 1839 charter was no longer adequate to meet the needs of the growing city, passed a 2nd charter under the title of "An act to incorporate the city of Chattanooga, and for other purposes."

 

This act reorganized the city council and authorized the appointment of a city marshal to replace the town constable. Unlike constables, city marshals could hire assistants and term them "policemen" On January 5th, 1852, Thomas McMinn was appointed as the first city marshal of Chattanooga and a small number of "policemen" were appointed with him. The Chattanooga Police Department was born.

 

As of July 2002, the Chattanooga Police Department employed 439 sworn police officers, of which 313 were assigned to uniformed duties.  As of 2006, the Chattanooga Police Department has an authorized strength of 460 sworn police officers and 211 civilian personnel; and, a budget in excess of $40 million dollars.  The Chattanooga Police Department is organized into two major commands: Operations and, Administration and Support. 

 

The Operations Command is responsible for the Patrol Division, Investigative Division and the Special Operations Division.  The Administration and Support Command includes Administrative Services, Technical Services, Training and Personnel and, Operations Support.

Ralph Henry (Big Ralph) Cothran joined the Chattanooga Police Department in 1964. By 1989 Big Ralph was appointed Chief. Thus, he became the first Black Chief in the history of the Chattanooga Police Department.
 
Editor's Note:  Chief Cothran did not write this book.  But, it was included by a police officer's request and the logic for inclusion was based on the book being, in part, letter written by Chief Cothran. 

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