Threats against Knox County Schools are rising; the sheriff is taking action

Sheriff Spangler said 32% more threats have been made against Knox County Schools this year
Sheriff Spangler said 32% more threats have been made against Knox County Schools this year
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 6:06 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - School threats are rising in Knox County, and the sheriff is making school safety a top priority. But, staffing shortages are making that difficult.

“That hit way too close to home. It got everybody’s attention here,” Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler said about The Covenant School shooting in Nashville earlier this week.

In a Friday news conference, Sheriff Spangler made it clear that he wants to ensure school safety.

“We will take every single threat as if it’s going to happen,” the sheriff said.

However, that’s becoming harder. The sheriff said threats against schools in Knox County are up 32% in 2023, compared to this time last year.

“We’re going to arrest anybody that makes a threat. Period,” Sheriff Spangler said.

All Knox County Schools have a security officer inside, but the sheriff spoke about his desire to have a sheriff’s officer in every school too.

“The parents are grateful that somebody is always within that school,” said the sheriff.

The problem is staffing. The sheriff said the department has 34 law enforcement vacancies, that’s about 8% of a full staff. Sheriff Spangler said right now, 26 officers are in charge of monitoring about 70 county schools. Some of them are in charge of two or three schools if they’re close enough.

“Retention is low.” Spangler said. “Recruiting is low.”

The sheriff said the starting pay for a patrol officer is just under $45,000, and he will be asking the Knox County Commission to raise that to $50,000 for captains and everyone below.

“We’re the third largest county in the state of Tennessee,” Sheriff Spangler said. “And we’re not anywhere near being third in paying our officers what they should be paid.”

The sheriff said the staff shortage extends to corrections officers too, with almost a third of the 291 corrections positions vacant.

Corrections and law enforcement have lost eight people total in the last month due to resignations. And there could be more coming. There are 138 people eligible to retire at the end of next year according to Sheriff Spangler.

The sheriff said other counties in East Tennessee are dealing with the same problem, and it’s common to lose recruits to higher paying jobs. He’s hoping the county commission will approve those raises to bring in more officers.