TVA Police: a dream job that's outside the ordinary

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
star staff

It sounds like a law enforcement officer's dream-come-true: motor vehicle patrol, horseback riding, boating, even bicycling. Plus, you get paid between $27,000 and $37,600 annually, in addition to overtime.
   Like any job, being a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority Police Force isn't all fun, but it does have some attractions not usually associated with police work.
   Since 1933, TVA has employed public safety officers who have law enforcement responsibilities. Agency officers have provided security during times of war. They also provided emergency medical and firefighting services during the agency's construction phases and have staffed visitors' centers throughout the TVA system.
   By the mid-1990s, the agency employed 500 public safety officers who were trained and certified at great expense. That number was reduced to 150, however, after 1994 when Congress passed legislation creating the TVA Police.
   According to Gil Francis of TVA media relations, "Our public safety officers had law enforcement responsibilities, but we covered seven valley states and each state had different jurisdictions. For example, it might have been under the highway patrol in one state and sheriff's department in another state."
   An officer at a TVA facility in Alabama did not have authority in Tennessee, Francis said. "By creating the TVA Police, we got uniform jurisdiction under a federal police entity and saved a tremendous amount of money," he said.
   Officers are now required to complete a 16-week federal training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga. in addition to a 10-week field training program.
   "It allowed us to get uniform police jurisdiction no matter what state they're in," he said, "but they only protect and patrol TVA property."
   TVA also has Industrial Security officers who staff the agency's office buildings in Knoxville and Chattanooga, as well as officers from Pinkerton Government Services who are under contract to provide armed security guards at TVA's nuclear plants.
   "By contracting out the security at the nuclear plants, there was a cost-savings, and it was a very effective way to provide needed security at those sites," Francis said. "Then we looked at our industrial security needs and realized that we didn't need weapons at that level, so that was a cost savings there. But we still needed the jurisdictional law enforcement on our properties, and that was how we created TVA Police."
   TVA security covers an 80,000-square-mile service area in parts of seven states, which includes 29 hydroelectric dams, 11 coal plants, three nuclear plants and a pump storage site at Raccoon Mountain, Francis said, "so we've got significant assets that need the type of patrols that we have."
   Lt. Fred Lockett III has been with TVA for 25 years, first serving in Alabama and now alternately patrolling between Watauga Dam and South Holston Lake reservoirs.
   "Our focus is on TVA, but if we're compelled to act, we can act off TVA property," Lockett said, offering mutual aid to local police and sheriff's departments.
   TVA Police deal with the same kinds of issues other law enforcement agencies do, except sometimes they must do it on water.
   "We have a marine patrol in this sector," Lockett said, which periodically patrols Watauga and other surrounding lakes. "A lot of TVA property is only accessible by water. We also work in concert with TVA's land management, [and] we meet and work with marina operators," he said.
   TVA Police routinely work drownings and disturbances at area campgrounds and sometimes also respond to an occasional call from a fisherman stranded on a sandbar in the middle of the lake at night, Lockett said. "We'll have to put a boat in, go out and get him. We patrol public use areas around our lakes as well."
   Another service provided by TVA Police is the enforcement of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. "We're interested in archaeological sites and problems that arise occasionally with that," Lockett said.
   Examples of violations include the excavation and removal of arrowheads, pottery shards, or other artifacts. Unauthorized digging or collecting can result in fines up to $100,000 and jail terms of up to five years.
   Lockett said that, since Sept. 11, 2001, "Our priorities have shifted to security. We're still able to provide law enforcement. It's slightly diminished, perhaps, but we're still able to provide those services and enhance the security at TVA's facilities."
   TVA's Francis said that there are a lot of security issues that aren't discussed. "For example, people will say, 'What do you do differently?' Well, there are a number of things that are done differently, but if we tell you those, we've undermined our efforts to maintain a heightened level of security," he said.
   Since the Department of Homeland Security designated a high level of alert prior to Sept. 11 this year, TVA security has been intensified.
   "We've contacted the governors of Tennessee and Alabama. We've got direct links to the National Guard; we've got direct links to the folks in Washington. ... We've closed the visitors centers. We've increased the number of security guards at the nuclear plants, increased the number of patrols, and we've extended the boundaries at the nuclear sites. It's costing a lot of extra money, too, but that's what we have to do," Francis said.
   Lockett said the best part of working with the police force is being part of TVA history. "It's been demanding, but it's been a great experience for me," he said.
   Jeffery Johnson, also an officer with TVA Police, formerly worked as a patrol officer and as a member of the SWAT team in Sullivan County. He said working for TVA is "a nice break from the pressure, but you still get into plenty. ... Then of course you have the pleasure of the water. That's what I enjoy most about it: the lake part," he said.