By Mike Steely
Last week I met Paul Noel, the new Knoxville Police Chief, at a meet and greet held in South Knoxville. As CommonPlace filled with other well-wishers, Noel agreed to complete the interview via email and turned in the answers to my questions the very next day.
Knoxville has a growing homeless population. How did New Orleans handle the homeless and what might be done here?
Law enforcement has a role to play in addressing homelessness, but enforcement efforts alone are not going to solve the issue. Homelessness is a public health crisis and we will work alongside the City of Knoxville and local service providers to address the root causes to create sustainable solutions. From a law enforcement standpoint, we can make a difference by being more visible and responsive. As a standalone unit that is available seven days a week to respond to calls presenting a behavioral health need, the Co-Responder Team can also play a significant role in addressing the issue.
We have a program where mental health workers ride with officers to respond to certain calls and I’m wondering if you are familiar with such a program and what are your comments?
I am a big supporter of the co-responder model. Officers routinely encounter individuals who are experiencing mental health or substance abuse crises. Officers are trained to effectively respond in those situations, but their options for assisting those individuals are limited. By having a behavioral health specialist with a crisis intervention trained officer, individuals are immediately assessed and directed to the appropriate service or treatment. Follow-ups are also conducted to ensure those individuals are not slipping through the cracks.
How do you feel about armed School Security Officers?
I am still evaluating the role that our officers will play in the schools. I have a meeting this week with Knox County Schools Security Chief Jason Periard to continue that evaluation process.
Please explain the ABLE program.
The Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement program is a peer intervention program that is based on a program that was started in New Orleans called Ethical Policing is Courageous (EPIC). The ABLE program will give each of our officers and employees the tools to intervene, prevent mistakes or misconduct and save officers’ careers with a focus on officer wellness. It is not an Internal Affairs program or a discipline program, and it will in no way impact the department’s efforts to reduce and prevent crime. Crime prevention and reduction will always be our top priority. ABLE-based training is simply a proven method for improving the trust and accountability within our ranks and the community.
Recruitment, especially among minorities, continues to be difficult. What are your plans or ideas?
Recruitment is a challenge for every department across the country. It’s a challenge to find people who are willing to do this job, and agencies are competing for a shrinking number of candidates. The pay raises that were recently pushed forward by Mayor Kincannon and approved by City Council will certainly help our recruitment efforts. On top of that, people want to be a part of a winning team. It is my responsibility as the chief to build a culture that people want to be a part of and make sure that the KPD is a place where people want to come to work. I am challenging our supervisors and my Command Staff to create and maintain that culture as well.