Elementary schools house the youngest and most vulnerable students in our school system. A 10News investigation uncovered thousands of reports of serious crimes within a half-mile radius of Knox County's elementary schools and asked county leaders what they're doing to protect children.
10News reviewed more than five years' worth of publicly available data from the Knoxville Police Department and Knox County Sheriff's Office, via the LexisNexis Community Crime Map.
From 2012 through February 2017, 11 of Knox County's 50 elementary schools saw a combined total of 27 reports of homicide or non-negligent manslaughter within a half-mile of the school building.
Green Magnet Academy saw eight reports; Beaumont Magnet Academy, four; Maynard Elementary School, three; Christenberry, Belle Morris, Lonsdale and West View elementary schools each saw two and Dogwood, South Knoxville, Fountain City and Norwood elementary schools each had one report of a deadly crime.
30 of the district's 50 elementary schools saw at least one report of nearby robbery in the past five years. The FBI defines robbery as "taking or attempting to take anything of value from ... a person ... by force or threat of force or violence."
These five elementary schools saw the highest number of reported robberies in surrounding neighborhoods in the past five years: Green Magnet Academy, 164; Beaumont Magnet Academy, 92; Maynard Elementary, 91; Lonsdale Elementary, 61 and Christenberry, 46.
Those same five schools also saw the top number of reported aggravated assaults: Green Magnet Academy, 300; Beaumont Magnet Academy, 248; Maynard Elementary, 223; Lonsdale Elementary, 137 and Christenberry, 97.
In the FBI Unified Crime Reporting category of forcible rape, Green Magnet saw the most nearby reported offenses over the past five years, with 47 incidents. Maynard and Beaumont were tied for the next-highest number of reports for an elementary school, at 29, followed by Lonsdale at 16 and Christenberry at 14.
Other crimes near schools include burglary/breaking and entering, theft and arson. See where your kid's school falls HERE.
By contrast, Corryton Elementary School in Northeast Knox County saw just four reports of any crime over the past five years, and those were all burglary/breaking and entering. A look at the map, however, shows the school is surrounded by a handful of houses and then just fields and woods.
Ritta Elementary School, also in Northeast Knox County, saw just eight reported crimes within a half-mile of the building over the past five years: two reports of aggravated assault, three reports of "all other larceny" (theft), two reports of motor vehicle theft and one report of reckless endangerment.
Copper Ridge Elementary (North Knox County) saw just 10 nearby reported crimes in the same time period. Gap Creek (Southeast Knox County) saw 11, Amherst (Northwest Knox County) had 12, East Knox County Elementary (Mascot/East Knox County) had 13 and New Hopewell (Southeast Knox County) saw 14.
Not coincidentally, the schools we see with the highest number of nearby reported crimes are also located in the county's most densely populated areas.
Gloria Deathridge is the Knox County Board of Education member representing District 1, where some of those schools are located.
"It may be around the school, but there's not a lot of crime in the school," Deathridge told 10News.
Both school and law enforcement officials intend to keep it that way.
"We've taken steps to secure schools," said KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas. "For example, just over the last two fiscal years, we've spent, I think, over $7.1 million just in terms of providing fencing and camera systems."
A six-foot-high fence is what insulates nearly every Knox County elementary school from the outside world.
"We gave priority to our elementary schools on the fencing," district security chief Gus Paidousis told 10News. "We are in the final stretch run of having every elementary school fenced."
He said the district is also moving toward a type of school entrance called a secure vestibule, as money and construction allow.
"Now you have to go through the door and then you have to buzz in, then you have to go through the secretary," Deathridge explained. "We try to make it very safe for our children, to feel like once they get to school they'll be well taken care of."
Knox County Board of Education chair Patti Bounds points to school security officers as another key factor in keeping elementary schools safe.
"They become a part of the community. They become a part of that culture," Bounds said. "I feel like that we can say our schools are a lot safer today than they were 5 years ago or 10 years ago."
The school security officers aren't just inside school walls.
"We actually have got a patrol component ourselves within Knox County Schools Security, so we have officers available in the morning as well as the afternoon, when kids are traveling to and from, who can address issues of concern," Paidousis said. "They can help monitor the bus stops."
For students within the Parental Responsibility Zone of a school, meaning they live too close to the schools to be bused, six of the district's schools have implemented a Walking School Bus program, where students and volunteers walk to and from school in groups. Five of the schools are on the list of elementary schools that saw a nearby reported homicide in the past five years: Beaumont Magnet, Belle Morris, Christenberry, South Knoxville and West View.
While denser populations can lead to higher crimes, they also mean the presence of more protective, watchful eyes. Paidousis said many neighborhood associations and parent-teacher organizations take a proactive, engaged role in school safety.
This 10News investigation Report Card on Crime continues all this week on 10News at 6.
Check out the searchable database of reported crimes around schools HERE.
The data is also available in THIS DATABASE.
An interactive map is available HERE.
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