Knoxville Vice Mayor hosts virtual town hall addressing recent uptick in violence

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie hosted a virtual town hall Friday with Chief Eve Thomas, District Attorney General Charme Allen, and mothers who have lost children to gun violence. The purpose of the town hall was to engage the community in discussion about the recent violence and deaths in Knoxville and how law enforcement is addressing it.

Since September 10, there have been more than 6 shootings and at least 6 murders, none of which have been solved. Scott Erland, Communications manager for the Knoxville Police department has acknowledged that there has been a significant increase in violent crime compared to this time last year.

Friday, Chief Thomas and D.A. Allen were given the opportunity to address this increase as well as answer questions from members of the community about how local law enforcement goes about investigating and solving cases.

Zenobia Dobson, mother of Zaevion Dobson and Terry Walker Smith also joined the discussion, to speak on behalf of mothers who have lost children to violence.

“We got to stand up for our children in this city. It doesn’t make sense to have to keep going through. Every day we keep hearing about a killing a shooting, about a kid losing their life to gun violence. It’s just not fair,” Dobson said.

Both women recounted their painful experiences with losing their children, and the legal process that followed. Chief Thomas and D.A. Allen were able to chime in to explain the process from the time they get the call, to the time they make an arrest. They were also able to answer questions about why some things, like making an arrest, could take months, sometimes years.

One thing that was emphasized was needing the help of the community to solve more cases. Chief Thomas said it starts with building trust between the community and law enforcement.

“We need the community to trust us, to give us that information. And I know there’s a lot of fear out there. And I think part of that, at least on our end, is we need to have people from the community join us as police officers. That helps to build trust and we need to figure out how to get people interested in policing that are in the community,” Thomas said.

D.A. Allen agreed, saying law enforcement needs more people to speak up if they know something.

“I think it’s just that people don’t trust perhaps us, the police, the prosecutors, don’t trust law enforcement, don’t want to get involved, don’t want to tell us what they know. And more than anything that’s what we need. We need people who see things and hear things to tell us,” Allen said.

Chief Thomas also discussed some ways officers are being held accountable during encounters. She mentioned all officers who are in uniform will be wearing body cameras. She talked about how the technology will automatically record encounters in certain situations, like when the officer opens a car door, or removes a gun from their holster.

If the camera is intentionally turned off, the officer will first receive a written reprimand, after that would be suspension.

McKenzie says her hope is that these discussions help more people understand how law enforcement is dealing with violent crime, as well as encourage more people to talk to the police if they know anything that could help solve cases.

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