By Ben Lawson
In his six years with the Sevier County Sheriff’s Department, Sergeant Rhett Rutledge has become part of a culture unique to law enforcement, one that he nearly missed out on.
Rutledge grew up in Sevier County, part of a family that saw several members enter law enforcement, including his grandfather, an aunt and a few cousins. After graduating from Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, he went on to study communications and play football at Austin Peay. Becoming a police officer was not yet on his radar as a career.
“I just sort of fell into it,” he said.
With sour prospects on the job market, Rutledge took a chance and applied for an opening with the Sheriff’s Department in 2005. He’s now a shift sergeant and training officer at the Sevier County Jail with an eye to further his career with the department however he can.
“I’m always looking to further myself,” he said. “I’m ready to do whatever the sheriff needs me to do.”
His current duties, which keep him almost continuously busy, include the full range of inmate interaction, from intakes to feeding and laundry. It’s because of this interaction that Rutledge feels corrections makes a good starting off point for people interested in law enforcement.
The jail population has its own unique culture, one where people will act differently on the inside then they will in normal life, putting on a façade. These are inmates who have essentially grown up in the system, starting in juvenile facilities and moving up as they age and their crimes worsen. Rutledge feels that people like this can still be helped, but the key is that they have to want help first.
“It’s important to remember that everyone who comes into this facility is a person,” he said. “They have to be treated the same whether they are innocent or guilty.”
Understanding this can help officers diffuse potentially disastrous situations without resorting to force. In his role as a training officer, Rutledge instructs new recruits on jail basics, including how to use words to deescalate a situation.
“People don’t realize the psychological ramifications of being locked away all the time,” he said. “They also don’t realize that it’s similar for us, being locked in here with them. We have our own little society, too.”
Law Enforcement: A Family Affair
By Ben Lawson