Knoxville Police Chief addresses withdrawal from agreement that puts officers in county schools

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas held a press conference Thursday following an announcement that the city and the Knoxville Police Department were withdrawing from a memorandum of agreement with Knox County Schools that placed officers on campuses.

Fourteen KPD officers who serve at Knox County Schools will be withdrawn effective June 12 to allow for current Student Resource Officers assigned to a school to complete the academic year through all graduations. Thomas said the withdrawal doesn’t mean that KPD won’t staff SROs at schools next year, but the pause will allow for discussions between all parties about the most effective role of law enforcement in schools.

KPD officers currently represent approximately 10% of all armed security personnel in Knox County Schools. Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler said Wednesday that 32 KCSO deputies would continue to serve inside Knox County Schools. A Knox County Schools spokesperson said 93 of the 105 armed School Security Officer positions in the county are currently filled.

A Knox County Board of Education resolution to take a second look at the Memorandum of Agreement between Knox County Schools and local law enforcement was proposed earlier this month. The resolution calls for the formation of a school safety and security subcommittee. The task of the new subcommittee would be to form a taskforce of students, parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders, as well as members of Knoxville and Knox County law enforcement, city and county leaders and a member of the Knox County District Attorney General’s office.

Resolution co-sponsors Evetty Satterfield and Daniel Watson said Wednesday that it was not their intention to imply that they were recommending the removal of law enforcement from KCS, rather that communities should have a say in what security looks like in their schools.

The board is expected to vote on both the MOA resolution at the May 12 school board meeting.

Mayor Kincannon and Chief Thomas released a joint statement following the announcement.

“KPD and City leaders will participate in the discussions with Knox County Schools regarding a proposal to rework the current MOA, while all planned SRO training will proceed as scheduled through the summer. The hope is that those conversations can lead to a solution that works best for all parties involved and creates the most safe and healthy learning environment for the students of Knoxville.”

The statement also says that “A shortage of officers has continued to be an issue for KPD, while Knox County School Security has the available staff to provide the appropriate coverage within the schools.”

The Knox County Education Coalition called on the Knox County Board of Education to remove all law enforcement from schools until new policies and procedures are adopted.

The announcement came nearly a month following an officer-involved shooting inside of Austin-East Magnet High School that left 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr. dead.

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