KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Buoyed by an assurance that Knoxville police officers can stay at least in the interim in Knox County Schools, members of the Knox County Board of Education began Wednesday afternoon preparing a strategy for a new security agreement that includes widespread community input.
Superintendent Bob Thomas told the board members during a discussion at Knox County Schools headquarters that Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon had informed him earlier in the day she was willing to let Knoxville Police Department officers stay in public schools if needed for the interim when classes start in August.
Kincannon had abruptly informed the board earlier this month she'd be withdrawing some 14 city officers from KCS in mid June. The mayor also said the city still wanted to take part in talks about its involvement in security going forward.
Kristin Farley, Kincannon's communications director, confirmed she'd spoken with Thomas on Wednesday morning.
"At that time, Mayor Kincannon indicated she would explore a provisional arrangement, if needed," Farley told WBIR.
Board members welcomed the news, although Patti Bounds said any new agreement should make it harder for a mayor to suddenly pull out of the system's standing security pact, something she called a "hasty and rash decision."
The group also informally agreed on steps moving forward.
Nudged along by board member Evetty Satterfield, they agreed to ask Thomas to identify an outside facilitator who can lead the process for gathering public input, evaluating it and presenting it for the future.
This will not be a speedy process. It'll take months; some suggested until at least January if not beyond.
Once Thomas finds an outside facilitator, the board would like to begin gathering public input. They identified a couple ways that can happen.
Community "town halls" could be held to hear public concerns about the placement of armed police officers and deputies in schools. In addition to KPD's 14 officers, there are about 26 deputies in schools. KCS also has its own security officer operation that's authorized for 105 positions and has a current staff of about 90, according to departing security chief Gus Paidousis.
Satterfield also advocated creating an online means for the public to submit comments and ideas going forward. She called it an "idea bank." All the responses could be compiled on something like a Google document.
Thomas said his staff would make that work.
After data and input has been collected from across the district, the board is contemplating action by a separate "citizens advisory council". It could sift through all the responses and come up with specific recommendations involving city, county and schools officers in the future.
Board member Daniel Watson, who pushed earlier this month for a re-evaluation of the current security agreement among the departments, said the process would "take some time."
It's also not a referendum on whether people like law enforcement, he said.
The current agreement was created to provide ample security in schools across the district.
The shooting death April 12 of Austin-East High School student Anthony Thompson Jr., 17, shocked the community and prompted calls for armed officers to get out of schools. Others, however, said armed officers ensure children inside are protected from threats.
Thompson got into a physical fight with a girlfriend April 12. Her mother alerted authorities, saying his behavior had become increasingly erratic and that he was known to carry a 9mm pistol.
KPD officers went to Austin-East to confront Thompson, who was sitting in a bathroom stall. Video earlier had shown him freely wandering school hallways.
During the confrontation, officers spotted Thompson's pistol. A struggle ensued, Thompson's gun fired and KPD Officer Jonathon Clabough fired two shots.
One hit and killed Thompson. The other struck KPD school resource officer Adam Willson in the leg. Willson is recovering.
Willson, Clabough and two other KPD officers who were involved in the shooting are on administrative leave while KPD reviews what happened. Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen has said she won't seek charges against the officers.
Last week, state and federal authorities announced they were charging a 21-year-old man with providing Thompson with the Glock 45 that he had in the bathroom. He also had a magazine in the bathroom at the time of the shooting.
Thompson told Kelvon Foster the kind of gun he wanted, provided money for it, and Foster made the purchase in early April, authorities allege.
Members of the board met informally