On Thursday, Dec. 31, Ronnie Bradley will park his Knoxville Police Department Harley Davidson for the last time, ending 34 years of wearing the blue uniform and the high-top patrol boots. Not long after that, he’ll begin his new job – babysitting grandson Riggs Hawkins Bradley, who is 2 months old.
“I don’t know what everyone else will call him, but I’m calling him Hawk,” Bradley, 57, says. “I’m up for this job. Bring it on.”
Hawk is the first child for Ronnie’s son Dylan and his wife, Morgan. When Morgan returns to work from maternity leave, Granddaddy will step in for diaper changes, the feedings and rocking Hawk to sleep until Mom gets home.
Dylan, by the way, also wears a KPD uniform. He’s been working for three years on patrol. Dylan is third generation KPD. His late grandfather and Ronnie’s father, Rudy, retired as deputy chief in 1997 and passed away in April 2017.
Ronnie was born in Mechanicsville but the family moved to the Pleasant Ridge Road area when he was 6. His great grandparents owned and operated Bradley’s Grocery at 501Arthur St. for many years and when they retired Ronnie’s grandparents continued operating the store.
In 1981 he graduated from West High School and joined the KPD in 1986. Ronnie spent his first 17 years on patrol and he’s spent the last 17 years of his career in the KPD Traffic Services Division, which includes the motorcycle unit, the criminal interdiction unit, red light camera enforcement, hit-and-run investigations and crash reconstructions. The unit responds to and investigates serious wrecks that involve a fatality or the potential for a fatality.
To become a certified crash reconstructionist, he spent six weeks training with the Institute of Police Technology & Management, gaining the knowledge to testify in court about accidents with fatalities – calculating speeds, skid marks, and vehicle movements and conditions of the vehicles in order to help explain why an accident happened.
Bradley and his fellow motor officers are on call 24/7/365 for all accidents involving fatalities.
Perhaps the most horrific accident he’s ever worked was the Dec. 2, 2014, crash involving two school buses on Asheville Highway that killed two students and a teacher’s aide and injured many others. “We had three guys working that crash for three months nonstop, following up on every little thing,” he said. “That’s one you don’t forget. Even where there are kids involved, you have to keep your emotions out of it and do the job – and we did.”
Did this son of a high-ranking KPD officer ever consider another career? “Not really. When I was 16 or so I knew I really wanted to give law enforcement a shot and I did. And I loved it.”
He was promoted to sergeant in 1994, but never sought promotions after that. “No, I never took the additional steps you had to take to get promotions. It was a choice I made between spending time chasing promotions or spending time with my children. It was not a hard decision.”
KPD Chief Eve Thomas had some special words for this retiring officer: “Ronnie has dedicated over 30 years to faithfully serving the KPD and the Knoxville community. He has provided exceptional service throughout his career, particularly in his work on behalf of crash victims. He will be sorely missed, but we wish him the absolute best in his well-earned retirement!”
As we talked about his 34 years at KPD, we talked about people and what he learned about people. “The biggest thing is that you never know what they are thinking. You can’t be a mind reader out there on patrol. But if you treat people good and with respect they will return it. I was taught that way at home and it makes your job a lot easier.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes –for KnoxTNToday.com. Suggest future stories at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 865-659-3562.