Police Review Meeting Draws A Crowd

By Focus Staff

The Police Advisory and Review Committee, the city mayor and the city police department were praised and criticized last Monday evening in a public forum held at Vine Middle School.

PARC meetings normally draw a very small crowd of citizens, but last week’s saw a couple hundred people. At least twenty from the audience addressed the forum following remarks from Mayor Madeline Rogero, PARC Chairperson Avice Evans Reid, and Police Chief David Rausch.

Several African-American and white citizens voiced their concerns and some voiced their lack of support for PARC, urging the communities themselves to better organize and deal with the tension between police and citizens.

“Organize yourself,” Mayor Rogero told the audience, encouraging community groups to have input to PARC and the police department.

Rev. John Butler, NAACP President and former PARC member, said that PARC is “underutilized” and people need to get involved. He added he wished a similar group was established in the county and at UT. He did mention racial profiling when being stopped and said that “If you don’t stop everybody then don’t stop me.”

He invited the officials and the audience to the NAACP meeting on justice on January 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Beck Cultural Center.

Another speaker asked what will happen if Knoxville elects a mayor who is not so concerned with cooperation between the police and citizens and also questioned why Knox County doesn’t have a citizen review board to oversee complaints about the sheriff’s office.  One speaker opined that PARC isn’t needed and is made up of political appointees.

There were questions about military gear at the police department and Chief Rausch said that was not true, that the gear was for the county sheriff’s department. Asked about diversity within the police department, the chief said that 12% of employees are African-American compared to 17% of the population in Knoxville.

“We value this dialog. We are 100% committed to strengthen our common bonds,” Mayor Rogero said. “We’ve made significant progress in respecting each other and working together.”

Ms. Reid said that PARC is only one of 100 such groups in the nation and that the group reviews the outcome of police investigations. She said that while PARC has no authority in hiring and firing that it has subpoena powers and interviews police and the complainant. If the inquiry finds that the police have violated policy, they make recommendations to the chief.

“People don’t make reports because they don’t think anyone cares,” one speaker said, to which Reid replied, “We don’t disregard any complaint.”

Another speaker said that there is a city emphasis on policing the African American community and said that he saw 8 to 10 police cruisers on Magnolia and Martin Luther King within 10 minutes. He went on to say that 80 to 85 percent of the police officers are “fantastic” but with the others it’s a matter of attitude.

Chief Rausch said the department is building diversity and outlined a number of programs the department has or is involved at the community level. He mentioned “Unity in the Community” and said there his department is working with faith groups and “getting people to know each other.”

While some citizens praised the police department and individual police members others, including several UT students, asked some pointed questions. One student asked if the city police’s class on cultural understanding was open to the UT Police Department. Rausch said it was open to other law enforcement departments and stressed that city recruits undergo 24 weeks of training, including diversity understanding, while most other jurisdictions have shorter training periods. He said they also undergo 17 weeks of field training before becoming active officers. He said that not every recruit becomes a police officer, explaining that out of 34 recent recruits only 24 became officers.

One citizen, Andre Canty, spoke of in-school arrests of youths and mentioned a federal discrimination complaint against the Knox County Schools  for “pushing out” African-American students and disabled students through unequal discipline.

“As you know there has been an uproar throughout the nation,” former mayor Daniel Brown told The Focus, adding, “It’s a very positive thing for the mayor, our police chief, and PARC to put on this forum and hopefully some good things will come out of it.”

“I think we’re doing a good job with police coming out to our neighborhood organizations,” he said.

Councilman Brown said that people are upset over the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, and said that locally he has had no direct calls about police brutality.

PARC was formed in 1998 by Mayor Victor Ashe following racial incidents involving police. There were 272 complaints the first year, as opposed to only 89 complaints in 2014. The public meeting had been scheduled well before the shooting of an unarmed teen or the choke-hold death of a man drew national debate. The Advisory Committee meetings are open to the public and take place at different locations  for each meeting.