A newly released report reveals violence against law enforcement officers in Tennessee has increased within the last three years.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report said more than 2300 officers were assaulted or killed in the line of duty in 2018 alone. That’s about a 28 percent increase since 2015.
More than 55 percent of cases statewide were simple assaults, according to the report.
There were no officers killed in the line of duty in Northeast Tennessee that year but there were 178 incidents of simple assault, aggravated assault and officer intimidation reported across seven counties.
Those numbers hit close to home at the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department after Sergeant Steve Hinkle was shot and killed during a routine welfare check in February 2019.
“When we have one of our own die, it’s shocking to everyone that works here,” said Operations Captain Jeremiah Lane. “It’s a reminder to our officers that any call could be a dangerous call. It could be the last call they answer.”
Sullivan County had yet another scare when a suspect was killed and a deputy was injured in an officer-involved shooting Monday afternoon.
“There’s a big increase in the lack of respect for police officers this day and time. Not because of the actions of the police officers but because of the attitude of the people that they’re confronted with,” said Craig Masters, chief administrative assistant for the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.
The statewide increase in officer encounters turned violent is prompting some local sheriff’s departments to step up investment in officer safety.
Masters said they just got a grant to upgrade body armor for their officers after three years of use.
Lane said his department is actively applying for grants to fund additional protective equipment.
Lane said they’ve also increased officer training to help them prepare for potentially violent encounters.
“It gets the officers accustomed to how to talk to individuals, how to talk to people, how to calm the situation down,” he said.
Masters said they teach de-escalation tactics informally since they don’t currently have the funds for formal training.
“We stress this to our officers. Treat people the way we would want to be treated,” he said.
Lane said they send a handful of officers every year to specialized instructor training. He said they help teach the rest of the department and offer free classes to other local law enforcement officials upon request.