KPD pulling out of security agreement

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Mayor Indya Kincannon at a recent City Council meeting. Photo by Jenna Stambaugh.

The Knoxville Police Department is ending its agreement with the Knox County Schools to provide uniformed officers for campus security.

The move may prove temporary and SRO (Student Resource Officer) training will continue through the summer.

The surprise announcement came today in a letter today from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon to the other parties to the Memorandum of Agreement between the school system, KPD and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.

The letter, which was also signed by Police Chief Eve Thomas and Law Director Charles Swanson, said that KPD will withdraw from the MOA as of June 12 but KPD “will always be ready to respond to emergencies in and around our schools, no matter what.”

“As the Knox County School’s internal School Security Division has grown, and as you now have resources to add mental health professionals to schools, we agree that it is time to have a dialogue about our respective roles to ensure school safety,” Kincannon wrote.

The decisions to pull out of the MOA came shortly after a coalition including the Knox County Schools employees’ union, the NAACP and other groups formally asked that KPD and KCSO remove their officers from the schools due to concerns about student safety. Also, two Board members had proposed that the MOA be redone with public input.

Last month, 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr. was shot and killed during a confrontation with KPD officers in a restroom at Austin-East Magnet High School. The officers were trying to take Thompson into custody for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend when a gun he was holding inside his hoodie’s front pocket fired once. One of the officers then fired twice, killing Thompson and wounding the school’s SRO. 

In a statement issued tonight, Kincannon said:

“The KPD and City of Knoxville felt that it was in its best interest to withdraw from the current Memorandum of Agreement effective June 12, 2021. That timeline allows for the KPD SROs currently assigned to a school to complete the school year though all graduations. 

“KPD and City leaders will participate in the discussions with Knox County Schools regarding a proposal to rework the current MOA, while all planned SRO training will proceed as scheduled through the summer. The hope is that those conversations can lead to a solution that works best for all parties involved and creates the most safe and healthy learning environment for the students of Knoxville. 

“A shortage of officers has continued to be an issue for KPD, while Knox County School Security has the available staff to provide the appropriate coverage within the schools. 

“No matter the outcome of future discussions, the KPD will continue to respond to the schools whenever officers are needed. The KPD has always done that and will continue to do so.” 

A KCSO spokesperson couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. 

More on KPD’s decision and its impact tomorrow in Hard Knox Wire.

J.J. Stambaugh can be reached at jjstambaugh@hardknoxwire.com

Published on May 5, 2021