KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – As early voting continues in the City of Knoxville primary race, the Knox County primary election is just nine months away. The race for Knox County’s next sheriff is among one of the biggest. Incumbent Sheriff Tom Spangler is set to face his predecessor, J.J. Jones, in May 2022.
Jones, who we spoke to in March, said his primary concern with KCSO today, and the reason he’s asking for his old job back, is the retention problem facing the agency.
Spangler acknowledged the problem Thursday. “Yea, we’ve lost people,” he said. “We’ve lost people because of what has gone on, because of COVID, because of the attacks on law enforcement. People have gotten out of law enforcement. They continue to do that today. We had one employee that left to go drive an ice truck…he said, I can make sixty thousand dollars.”
Spangler has implemented recruiting tools, like employee referral cash incentives and job fairs, but feels one of the best ways he can make the agency more competitive and retain more deputies is through pay. In each budget cycle, Spangler advocated for employee pay raises.
In 2019, he secured a 6% pay bump. In 2020, he successfully pushed for 1,500 bonuses. While he requested 8% increases in the most recent budget, employees with the rank of Captain or below received a 5% uptick.
If reelected, he vows to continue advocating for his law enforcement officers. Shortly after taking office, Spangler decreased the number of KCSO Captains to pay for more patrol and correctional officers and eliminated 12-hour shifts for those working patrol.
“That’s just way too much on the body. We can’t expect people that are carrying a weapon and making split-second decisions to be tired. I wanted to make sure they got the rest and most of all being able to spend a little bit more time with their families.”
Spangler also discussed more controversial decisions, including not enforcing countywide mask mandates and continuing the 287(g) program first implemented by Jones.
“By state law, if you come into our jail, we’re going to identify who you are one way or the other. If we find out you’re here illegally, then we do a little more in-depth background check on you and if we find out you’re wanted from somewhere, then we turn it over to ICE. Other than that, that’s it,” Spangler added.
Spangler felt the mandates and curfews were unconstitutional and felt enforcement would make a dire situation worse. “I’m not going to go in and enforce, and make people suffer anymore, and that was my decision. I’d stick to it today,” he said.