Knoxville police looking at solutions to deter shooting violence

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Photo by JJ Stambaugh. Surveillance towers, such as this, have been commonplace in parking lots to deter crime, such as car theft and shoplifting."

More people have been slain on Knoxville’s streets over the last 15 months than ever before, and police are preparing to try a host of new strategies to fight the crime wave.

Scott Erland, spokesman for the Knoxville Police Department, said those solutions could consist of new technology, new programs and the restructuring of existing units.

“We as a department and city are considering all of the available options and programs to combat the rise in gun violence,” Erland said. 

“That requires an extensive amount of research to ensure that those programs or initiatives would prove effective and sustainable here, as well as the funding required to start and maintain those programs and initiatives.”

Some of those steps will include acquiring license plate recognition cameras, a formal CrimeStoppersUSA program and restructuring KPD’s Safety Education Unit.

The pressure to bring new solutions to the table has increased since four Austin-East Magnet High School students were killed in separate shooting incidents over a two-month period.

Since Jan. 1 of this year, in fact, there have been 15 slayings, all of them involving firearms. In comparison, by this time in 2020 there had been only six homicides.

There were 37 homicides in Knoxville in 2020, more than the previous high of 35 in 1998.

The city is looking at hiring Cities United, a nonprofit group dedicated to quelling inner city violence by using violence interruption tactics and crime prevention efforts.

At the same time, KPD  is looking hard at its own strategies and developing plans which will likely consist of old and new ideas.

One those ideas, he said, is already close to being realized. 

The department is close to obtaining license plate recognition cameras, explained Erland. One they’re operation, the camera systems are typically placed in high-priority areas and can help identify wanted suspects or stolen cars.

In Tennessee, the new technology is currently being used by police in Brentwood, Mt. Juliet, Belle Meade and Hendersonville.

Other cities across the United States have also utilized mobile phone apps to battle violence. Some cities have online networks that take note whenever shots are fired and immediately notify the community.

There are drawbacks.

“Apps are expensive both to get off the ground and upkeep,” Erland said. “However, we have explored it and will look at it again if we can acquire the necessary funding.” 

 Another drawback to new technology it that can be hit and miss.

A gunshot detection system called ShotSpotter was looked at in 2018 by the Nashville Police Department but it discontinued after a year-long pilot program.

Chattanooga also considered the system in 2015, but it was cut from the city’s budget and never came back, Chattanooga officials said.

Erland said Knoxville also looked at ShotSpotter was, in a word, unimpressed.

“The Knoxville Police Department tested that software several years ago and, in our assessment, it was both very expensive and not particularly reliable, especially for the unique terrain of Knoxville,” Erland said.

Two concrete programs the department is working on are CrimeStoppersUSA and the Safety Education Unit. The revamping of the education unit will hopefully increase community engagement once the COVID-19 pandemic ends, Erlanger said.

Once implemented, the CrimeStoppers USA program will also give residents multiple ways to report a crime, he said. The public can provide tips via email, a website, a phone call or a smartphone app.

Information leading to arrests through the CrimeStoppersUSA program comes with a $1,000 cash reward, he said.

“The KPD is considering any available technology that may assist our efforts to prevent and address violent crime and investigate violence crime after it occurs,” Erland said.

Cliff Hightower can be reached at cliffhightower@hardknoxwire.com.

Published on March 22, 2021.