Report Card on Crime: What's being done to reduce crime
Making neighborhoods - and the public schools within them - safer is a complex task that requires a dedicated plan, police vigilance, buy-in from residents and money to support and promote redevelopment, government and police leaders say.
But it's a task they say they're committed to, and they argue they're already seeing results after years of decay in some urban Knoxville neighborhoods.
"This whole thing about neighborhoods and community safety is this relationship that exists between neighborhoods and law enforcement," said Knoxville Police Department Chief David Rausch. "We're a support unit to neighborhoods."
Said Mayor Madeline Rogero: "We have a wide variety of neighborhoods and housing stock, and we are committed to working in each of those neighborhoods to make them safer."
In this week's series Report Card on Crime, WBIR 10News has detailed crime rates around Knox County Schools' 80 public schools. The series did not look at reported crime around alternative and non-traditional secondary schools.
A WBIR database created from serious reported crime in the city and county shows high rates around many inner-city schools, particularly elementary schools such as Green Magnet, Beaumont, Maynard and Belle Morris.
Very little if any reported crime occurs at schools themselves, figures show, and school system officials say they're in the middle of a plan to spend millions to boost security - a plan that calls for fencing at all schools and building secure vestibules - multi-layered entrances.
But within a half-mile of many elementary, middle and high schools, there are high numbers of aggravated assaults, vehicle thefts, and burglaries, the database shows. Sometimes there are homicides: eight within five years around Green Magnet, for example, and six around Austin-East High School and Vine Middle School in the same time period.
Police, educators and city officials say they're working to lower crime in key areas such as the inner city. They say residents also have a voice in reducing serious crime that goes on around them.
Without that participation, in fact, there's only so much a government can do.
Reaching the community
In order for a crime to occur, according to Rausch, three things must be present: an offender, a victim and an opportunity.
KPD wants to reduce the frequency of all three.
The department tracks on a weekly basis where crime occurs to evaluate how authorities should respond, according to Rausch. When necessary it uses targeted enforcement.
KPD also takes part in a federal initiative called Project Safe Neighborhoods that targets gun and gang crime.
The department has made a point of being more visible in communities where crime occurs, and of creating relationships with the people who live there.
For example, Rausch and some of his officers in March took part in a dance with students at Austin-East Magnet High School. The month before, the school and KPD had teamed up to discuss relations between police and the community.
If residents want to stop criminal activity on their streets, they also can take part in the Neighborhood Watch program. KPD will assign an officer to work with a neighborhood as a liaison to promote awareness about criminal activity and how to curtail it.
There are more than 80 such neighborhoods working with KPD right now, according to department spokesman Darrell DeBusk.
Rausch believes in community policing.
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Non-profits also offer numerous programs at the neighborhood level to nurture children - groups like 100 Black Men, the Great Schools Partnership, the Emerald Youth Foundation, Girl Talk Inc., UUNIK Academy, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley.
"If you can increase activity - positive activity - in an area, you can decrease crime," Rausch said.
Rogero, a longtime champion of community development, said she's always open to new programs and new ideas that can make neighborhoods safer and reduce crime.
She promotes using public money and financing methods to improve public and subsidized housing. On Friday, she joined other officials in breaking ground on the second phase of the Five Points housing plan along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in East Knoxville.
Knoxville, and cities across America, have changed their approach to public or low-income housing in recent decades.
Gone is the practice of stacking people on top of each other in high rises. Now, more communities are being built with less density and more of a neighborhood feel. For example, the former College Homes development is gone. In its place along Western Avenue is a collection of single-family homes with a church and wide greenspace.
Rogero has included millions in her proposed 2017-18 budget for a second phase of work to improve Magnolia Avenue, once one of the city's grand streets that slipped into decay and abandon in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
Now in her second term, Rogero also has focused on enforcing property code ordinances so land owners don't let their property slip into blight. It's a long-term project. Many areas remain pocked with abandoned or decrepit structures.
"Our work along the Magnolia Corridor, that will be -- the construction will be starting this year -- is about helping to reduce that blight, bring more positive activity to the corridor, which makes it safer for the community, for the people who live adjacent to that corridor as well," Rogero said.
Improving neighborhoods increases an area's chance of growing economically, drawing more businesses and encouraging others to expand, said Mike Edwards, CEO and president of the Knoxville Chamber - also a member of the Tennessee State Board of Education.
Rogero and Rausch also said it's important for residents to take part in, to invest in their neighborhood, to speak up when they see something wrong.
"Your churches are stakeholders, your after-school programs are stakeholders and your neighbors are obviously your stakeholders," said Evelyn Gill, Knox County commissioner for District 1, which includes much of the inner city.
If police don't know something is going on, they can't respond. Neighbors need to get to know each other, and they need to pay attention, Rogero said.
"People compare notes, they identify if there's somebody suspicious, so it's those eyes on the street, even if you can't be there all the time," she said.