JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — It has almost been a week since an interim police chief of the Johnson City Police Department began his new position. Billy Church said once appointed, he was excited to get started.
“It was mind-blowing,” said Church. “It was definitely a surprise, but it was something that was welcoming. It was something that I was like ‘wow okay, I can make a difference.’ And immediately the wheels started turning at that point.”
It didn’t take long for those turning wheels to become action. He changed the department’s tattoo policy to help with recruitment. Previously, Church said the policy required tattoos to be hidden, which presented a recruiting roadblock if a tattoo was somewhere that could not be covered up.
Church said officers will also be getting new uniforms equipped with body cameras and stun guns.
“We’ll pair those with the training and our officers will have that: the body cams, the tasers, new uniforms. I think we’re just moving in a different direction, and it’s quickly too,” said Church.
Those uniforms will also include load-bearing vests. Church said their traditional uniforms will still be used and worn in a courtroom setting.
Many city workers accepted the retirement incentive offered by the city, including members of the police department. Church said the department is typically fully staffed with 153 workers. As of Wednesday, the department is down 26 employees.
“It’s pretty bad for patrol, but we’re making due,” said Church. “We’re allowing officers to work off duty and work extra shifts to fill those gaps, so we’re doing good. The calls of service are being answered so the citizens should feel safe.”
Church believes the position of police chief will open in July with the new budget year. But when the time comes, he intends to fill that position.
“If given the opportunity, I would love to have the position,” said Church. “I love working here. I’ve been here almost 30 years. I love working with the officers and I feel a connection to them. And I wanted to take it to help them. And I want to continue to help them and help this department.”
Training for the new equipment should be completed within the next few months giving the department a whole new look with their new uniforms by the summer.