KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knoxville Chief of Police Paul Noel has big plans for 2023 as he looks to the future of the department, from recruiting more officers to reducing violent crime.
In his first seven months, Noel has introduced several changes to the department including having all command staff wear uniforms daily, making the Internal Affairs Unit and the Accreditation Unit report directly to Assistant Chief Mark Fortner, and joining the ABLE (Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement) Project. KPD is the first Tennessee law enforcement to join the project and ABLE training will begin in 2023.
Noel also reorganized the department structure and leadership positions. This led to the creation of the Central District, increasing the number of police districts from two to three. During his press conference on Thursday, Noel explain that this would help the department increase its visibility in downtown Knoxville.
“Our efforts with visibility downtown it’s something that Captain Shaffer, who’s over the Central District, has really worked on. I think they’ve done a great job. We’re going to be deploying our cadets downtown on Market Square, so you’ll see our cadets in blue uniforms walking around downtown, and Market Square. Our aim, our goal is to make downtown cleaner, safer and as inviting to visitors as possible,” said Noel.
Noel also outlined several additional goals for 2023 during the press conference. One of those is enhancing KPD’s recruiting efforts with a focus on recruiting more people from the Knoxville community and adding more diversity to the department. KPD has already begun a recruitment campaign, which includes “constant digital advertisements that run locally, regionally and nationally.” The department is also re-evaluating its hiring processes to find ways to increase the number of qualified applicants and remove any unnecessary barriers.
“Reevaluating our entire hiring process from start to finish, try to modernize it. Make it more efficient, you know. Hiring right now is very, very competitive. So, what can we do to be more efficient without lowering our standards? We’re looking at that right now,” said Noel.
To support the recruiting effort, KPD also plans to work closely with Fulton High School’s criminal justice program to fill out the Cadet ranks.
In addition, Noel wants to meaningfully reduce crime, especially violent crime. KPD has a goal to reduce murders by another 10% in 2023.
“We started off with two districts when I came here, and we reestablished the Central District which KPD used to have into effect years ago. Now we have three districts, and we did that so we could be more narrowly focused when responding to crime and community concerns and to give more authority and more responsibility to our district captains to be able to solve problems at their level. It’s really it’s a change in philosophy giving that power and authority to our district captains to be able to respond nimbly to deal with those issues,” said Noel.
Noel explained that the change in districts and the department restructuring allow district chiefs to focus on their district and find solutions specifically for that area. Noel said he also hopes that it allows the department to be more involved within the community.
“In order for us to achieve our crime reduction goals, it’s imperative that we sustain a culture and build a culture that’s accountable to one another and accountable to the community. We need to create trustworthiness and we need to strive to do the right thing in all situations and constantly seek to self-improve. That’s the culture we want to build in this department,” said Noel.
Noel is also working to overhaul KPD’s technological infrastructure. One part of this means purchasing a new RMS records management system to make data more robust. KPD is also creating public dashboards to increase transparency regarding crime in Knoxville. Noel said this will help the department to better analyze crime trends and develop effective crime reduction strategies.
“Bringing in this year outside consultants to really assess our process and really help us enhance it from a management standpoint and from a data analytics standpoint as well. And ultimately, the goal is going to be to improve the way we share information and intelligence inside this organization to help us identify crime trends and evaluate the effectiveness of our crime mitigation strategies,” said Noel.
One way Noel has already begun the process of overhauling is through the reimagining of the COMPSTAT and crime analytics processes. This was done to improve information and intelligence sharing, find crime trends and evaluate ongoing crime mitigation strategies.
Another goal for Noel is to create a new position, the Deputy Chief of Professional Standards. The role of this position would be to streamline the policy, practices and procedures of KPD and lead the department’s efforts to achieve its diversity, equity and inclusion goals. The process of creating the new position has already begun and needs to be approved by the Knoxville City Council.
Noel explained that he used the department’s internal climate assessment to find areas of strength and where there is room for growth. This led to the formation of employee working groups to identify initiatives and opportunities to improve areas of weakness.
“You can’t do too many things at once. I think that we’ve done a really good job to find that sweet spot of being able to implement the change that we need to modernize this organization but also not move too quickly where I leave people behind,” said Noel.
Noel was officially sworn in as chief on June 13, 2022. He is the 27th Chief of the Knoxville Police Department. Before coming to Knoxville, Noel served as the Deputy Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with additional information.