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In year after death of George Floyd, Knoxville police undergoes reform

After the death of George Floyd, police reform swept through the U.S. and in East Tennessee.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tuesday, May 25, marks 1 year since George Floyd died at the hands of police in Minnesota. His death triggered calls for police reform across the country.

As departments in states across the U.S. implemented new policies, several new measures were put in place for the Knoxville Police Department. City leaders moved quickly in the months following Floyd's death to make changes.

Officials said they considered policies that Knoxville police were already following as well as expectations from the community. According to Lakenya Middlebrook, the director of the Police Advisory and Review Committee, they also thought about what more could be done to improve the department.

Within a month, KPD revised its Use of Force and Code of Conduct policies to be in line with the "8 Can't Wait" Campaign. Officials said the department was already following most of the policies but also found ways to improve. 

They also removed the department's only previously approved neck restraint. Additional reporting is also now required in use-of-force incidents. Leaders also added clearer language that officers should intervene if another is using force out of policy and added a use-of-force continuum.   

"No matter what your rank is — if you see something wrong that is happening, you have a duty to intervene in that situation," said Middlebrook.

She said those changes were critical and said she hoped they would lead to more effective policing and improved relationships between police and community members. She also said she hoped the changes would help police avoid tragic incidents in the future.

Other measures included focusing on hiring a diverse group of officers. 

"It's critically important that our police departments reflect the communities that they serve," said Middlebrook. 

KPD has also taken steps to improve their relationship building, which Vice Mayor Gwen McKenzie said she stands behind.

"We have to be intentional with relationship building and how we interact with each other," she said. 

McKenzie and Middlebrook said if anyone has issues with law enforcement, they should report them. People can report issues through the internal affairs office or by contacting city leaders directly. 

KPD is also working to train more officers in crisis intervention and cultural diversity.

And even though it is not a direct result of the death of George Floyd, the resolution to enter an agreement with Axon Enterprise for body cameras was voted on in July 2020. 

Another initiative from Knoxville police was the Community Engagement Response Team, even though it was not created in response to the death of George Floyd. The team was launched to address problems in the community, specifically violent crime, and to organically engage with people.

PARC also reviews serious and minor incidents and looks to make direct changes.