KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — On this International Women’s Day, we’re taking a look at the strong women in our area — women like Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas.
These are challenging times with a homicide rate here triple the number of last year at this time and young people falling victim to gun violence. In our one-on-one interview, Chief Thomas talks about why this is happening and her plans to make Knoxville a safer place to live.
The community is reeling after the recent shooting deaths of Austin-East Magnet High School students Janaria Muhammad and Stanley Freeman, Jr. So far, there’ve been no arrests.
“Anytime there’s a child that’s killed,” Thomas said, “it hurts our hearts, it hurts everybody’s hearts: police officers, the community, everybody because you should never outlive your children. Never.”
We asked, “the big question is why? Why are the numbers higher?”
Thomas answered, “you know, I don’t know. They are higher across the nation, but I don’t worry about across the nation. I have to worry about my own community; why this is here, what’s happening here and you know, I think COVID has a part to play unfortunately. We’re so isolated, our kids are not going to school all day if they are virtually learning. Are they really sitting in front of a computer? Who do they have at home to guide them?”
We sat down to talk about changes in her nearly 30 years as a police officer, nearly three of them in her groundbreaking role as chief. It’s a career she did not plan.
“I never saw myself as a police officer until I applied for the Police Academy. I was in retail management and wanted to be an astronaut. Aeronautical Engineering at UT, working four jobs, couldn’t cut the grades so got into psychology and retail management,” she said.
Thomas started out at Target stores, moving to management positions. She was about to be a woman on the rise in an entirely different arena.
“My brother wanted to be a police officer, and he said, ‘will you take the test with me?’ I said, ‘sure, I’ll try it. That might be something kinda cool,’ and so that’s how it started.”
We asked about her brother and whether he passed the test. Thomas laughed and said, “no, haha, no, he’s still mad.”
Her psychology background helps Thomas understand the toll violent crime takes on her officers. Last year, she changed policy to include mental checkups during annual physicals.
“We talked homicide and kids. Officers doing CPR on a kid is tough,” Chief Thomas said. “It takes its toll on the officers. We’ve got to make sure we’re supporting our officers.”
Thomas maintains her own fitness, running every day along or with other officers.
We asked about the physical toll on her after she mentioned wearing hearing aids. “Yeah, that’s one thing,” she said. “The physical toll getting in and out of the patrol car that wears some folks out. We have folks that need hip and shoulder replacement and things like that.”
“When we feel good, we do better, we support the community better and do our jobs better, so that’s important,” she added.
We asked, “what grade would you give yourself as Chief today? ”
She answered, “that’s tough. That’s tough, horrible to say! With all that’s going on in the world, I just can’t give myself more than a C. My officers are stressed out. I’m trying. I have so much more to do.”
Chief Thomas said she looks forward to getting back to meeting with people one-on-one, continuing to build trust, especially among twenty-somethings. That’s an age group you don’t often see at community meetings.
She starts her day at 4:30 every morning to get her workouts in. And she says women add to every profession and that skills like empathy and knowing how to deal with people are critical to success.