KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Mayor Indya Kincannon deciding alongside Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas deciding to pull out city officers from Knox County Schools came as a surprise to some school board members Wednesday night.
The decision was made shortly before Knox County Board of Education members were set to talk about a new resolution, which would take a look at the current memorandum of agreement between local law enforcement agencies and open up community discussions about whether the MOA should change.
Daniel Watson and Evetty Satterfield were the two board members who brought up the resolution.
Both say the resolution’s intent was not to remove any officers from the district.
It simply outlines a public process for reviewing the MOA and offering recommendations, according to Watson.
Watson said it’s not his job to guess what actions public figures will take, but Satterfield was adamant that the announcement came as a surprise.
“Our intent was to look at it, get community input to say, ‘hey, what does policing and safety in your schools for your community? It looks different in every community.’ And how does the board of education support what that looks like,” Satterfield said.
Satterfield said they haven’t even had the chance to talk with school principals about what the policing situation looks like on their campus.
However, Watson said the move from the city to back out of the MOA could be how they can easily change the MOA.
He said he read the mayor’s letter as the city is ready to go back to the drawing board.
“To me, in some ways if you stay in an agreement that you want to be re-evaluated, how much does that say that you want it to be re-evaluated,” Watson asked theoretically.
The point is: Watson and Satterfield said they want to hear from the community before any drastic changes are made.
According to Chief Thomas, KPD entered into the first agreement back in 1999, shortly after the Columbine, Colo. school shooting.
Since then, the dynamics of policing in schools have changed, including the number of school security officers versus school resources officers.
“Under Chief Gus Padousis, when he became Chief of the School Security Division, he started with 30 armed officers. He now has 105 positions. That’s a tremendous increase. And our (officer) numbers have continued to dwindle,” Thomas said.
Thomas said over the years, KPD was never allotted extra positions to fill those SRO spots in schools.
They had to come from patrol units.
She said it’s still the same today.
Watson agreed it was a different time when Columbine took place.
“If we go back to Columbine and Sandy Hook, I mean, those were national devastating events that every community in America reacted to. And I don’t fault Knox County for making swift adjustments in that period of time,” Watson said.
He said it’s not right for the BOE and law enforcement to continue to lean on the things that were built during those periods of time.
Watson said the district needed to continue to evolve and figure out how they can improve.
The reason why both Satterfield and Watson wanted to create the resolution was because they felt the community needed to be part of the decision-making when it comes to anything related to schools.
Especially with policing in schools.
They both said the resolution had been in the making months before the gun violence near Austin-East High.
“It has been the number one concern for a lot of community members, is how do we interact with law enforcement within our schools,” Satterfield said.
Satterfield said Wednesday night was the first time both her and Watson were able to discuss the resolution.
But, she had been able to at least talk with some students before the mayor made the announcement about backing out of the MOA.
“They wanted to have meet and greets before the school year started with their officers and their school security, so that they could know who they are, who to expect, so they can begin to build those relationships. They also talked about, is there a way they can be in plain clothes? Can security officers be in plain clothes,” Satterfield said.
With the city backing out of the MOA, it doesn’t mean students will be left unprotected.
All schools will have at least one armed school security officer, plus 32 Knox County Sheriff’s deputies will be stationed at the schools in the county.
On top of that, KPD officers will stay in the school until June 12, when the last graduation ceremony takes place.
The hope is to have the community engagement, come up with a new MOA, if that’s what the community wants, and implement it all before school starts back up in the fall.
“I encourage any and all community members who have something to add to the dialogue to come out to the community meetings when they are scheduled,” Watson said in a statement.
“I think we’re capable of doing it, but we have to act on it now, and get those dates in place, and get the community input, and find that facilitator that can facilitate the conversation,” Satterfield said.
Kincannon and Thomas wanted the community to understand, the decision does not mean KPD won’t be around to make sure students are safe.
“We need to know what the community and school board want and we want to work with them. Whether it’s having officers in the schools or being immediately outside the schools. And be ready to respond and we respond quickly. We’ve had school shootings and we’ve responded with our beat officers very quickly. So, we’re confident we can respond quickly even if we don’t have a KPD office assign to a school,” Thomas said.
KPD officers will still receive SRO training over the summer.