KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The city’s first-ever Director of Community Safety is officially two days on the job. As Lakenya Middlebrook prepares to leave her role as Executive Director of the city Police Advisory and Review Committee (PARC) behind, she’s also shedding some light on the work ahead in her new role.
Mayor Kincannon announced the new position last week. It follows a year of back-to-back gun tragedies. In fact, as of Wednesday, the city has seen 30 deadly shootings this year.
Middlebrook said Wednesday the concept behind the job actually started when she became PARC Director and was asked to be part of “re-imagining public safety.” Her assignment, she explained, was to coordinate with the City’s Department of Community Empowerment, Knoxville Police, Knoxville Fire, and other community partners, to promote violence prevention and interruption. She believes the new role solidifies the mission.
Although she’ll have more time to dedicate to those goals, their overall mission remains to bring together city departments, neighborhoods, and community groups to curb, or even prevent, violent crime. That collaboration, Middlebrook said, will ensure their effort is targeted and that the resources are in place to tackle the root causes of violent crime. She sees it as a most holistic approach to the problem impacting many families in the city.
It’s why Kincannon says she created the new position and chose Middlebrook to fill it. “We want to intervene and stop the violence. The sooner the better. Nobody has a bigger heart for that than Lakenya Middlebrook.”
Middlebrook and other city leaders have visited other cities to learn best practices, and long-term strategies, for curbing the problem and “interrupting the cycle of violence before the cycle starts.” She’s also working with local hospitals to find hospital-based intervention strategies, to ensure victims of crime have the tools they need when they’re discharged.
“It’s really, really, important for us to address some of those root cause issues, to reach people where they are, to hopefully stop an incident before it happens, to think about ways that we can connect with people, outside the criminal system, to reduce violence in our community and improve public safety as a whole, Middlebrook added.
She also believes a united front will help deter crime from coming into communities. “It makes it more challenging and more difficult for folks who may not be part of our community to come in and create turbulence and wreak havoc,” she said. “We may not be able to stop every single incident, but it’s important for us to try every single time.”
She sees the chance to work more directly with Chiefs Thomas and Sharp as an opportunity to find ways to strengthen relationships, build trust, and ensure accountability.