The concerns relative to recent criminal events around our campus are understandable. I am writing to provide each of you with resources available, trends, actions and plans to address these reoccurring incidents on and around campus.
Though not as common as lesser crimes that I will mention, the recent shooting incidents on or around the Cumberland Avenue business district are nonetheless concerning. I have had several discussions with our partners at the Knoxville Police Department, as well as leaders of those local businesses to discuss these issues. I am aware through these discussions and discussions with my own staff that the Knoxville Police Department has greatly increased their presence in the area. On most weekends, there are 10 or more KPD officers assigned to this district. My own shift supervisors are in communication with KPD area supervisors and will assist without hesitation to any call for assistance KPD might make. These discussions are ongoing and I would add that we regularly communicate with KPD, even when things are not so busy. I hope to see improvement in this area, but it would be prudent for our students to consider the need to be in that area late at night.
On campus we have seen an uptick in auto burglaries (thefts from motor vehicles), and stolen vehicles. Let me start with the auto burglaries. In almost every case, the thefts are occurring from vehicles left unlocked. Alarmingly, one recent auto burglary resulted in a loaded firearm being stolen from a student’s unlocked vehicle. In other auto burglaries suspects have been known to force entry when high value items are left in plain sight within the vehicle. We routinely remind students to lock their vehicles and remove high dollar items from plain view.
In this recent rash of these auto burglaries my detectives were able to identify the suspects who stole the firearm and also stole a vehicle that had been left unlocked with the keys inside. These incidents led to the arrest of two juveniles and an adult. The stolen handgun was recovered in the home of a 14-year-old suspect and the stolen vehicle was also recovered. We suspect that many other such crimes are likely connected to this same group and we will charge them with those crimes if we develop probable cause. I should add that we referred the owner of the stolen firearm to UT’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards in lieu of charging him criminally, as leaving an unsecured firearm in a vehicle is a violation of the law (and a very bad idea).
We’ve also seen an uptick in stolen vehicles, including a recent carjacking. It seems as though every couple of years an organized group of people target specific makes and models of vehicles to steal. In years past, mid 2000’s Chevy or GMC pickups have been popular. I am told that this is because their theft deterrent systems are easily defeated and they can be stripped and sold for parts quickly and easily. This year the target appears to be slightly older Jeeps, for the same reasons. Unfortunately, since many of these vehicles are driven by students who are not commuting daily, the reports are often delayed by several hours or even days.
I mentioned a recent carjacking. We sent out a Safety Notice to the campus community about this incident. A female student was approached by a young female asking for a ride, and then pulled from her car by a couple of male suspects who then stole her vehicle. That vehicle was later recovered. Four juvenile suspects have been identified in that case. Two of the four have been arrested, and my detectives have identified the other two and are currently searching for them. As you probably already noticed, many of the issues I’ve identified involve juveniles. This unfortunate truth may easily cause you to question the supervision and lack of resources available to these kids who may, because of current COVID related concerns, not be attending school or be otherwise appropriately occupied. I should also mention that we most often provide verbal and written trespass warnings to individuals who commit crimes on our campus. This ensures that if they are found on our campus in the future they are subject again to criminal charges for that reason.
Now I want to mention some of the safety resources available to our community. One key tool available to my officers are the over 1,800 surveillance cameras on our campus. These tools have proven invaluable to us in many cases. Though not everywhere, we have continued to expand this network with available funding throughout our campus and will continue to do so moving forward. We believe that these cameras not only aid us in identifying and apprehending criminals but also serve as a visible deterrent to would-be criminals.
Below are a list of links to available resources that I would like everyone to review and be familiar with:
The UT Public Safety website provides an overview of Public Safety at UTK and includes links to UT Police, Clery Act Compliance and other resources.
Our LiveSafe website provides a link to UTK’s Campus Safety (smart phone) app, LiveSafe. This app includes important safety features that provide access to many important safety features.
- Use your smartphone contacts to invite friends and family to “walk” (or drive) with you virtually
- Place an emergency call to the nearest 911—no matter where you are
- Reach UT Police via emergency call or text
- Report an incident to a variety of campus offices
- Access important resources like emergency procedures and the safety map
- Report suspicious activity
- Report unsafe physical conditions- inoperable lights, broken sidewalks, missing signs, etc.
I am often surprised at the number of times I am made aware that someone witnessed something suspicious but did not want to bother us or become involved. We need to think of the safety of our fellow campus residents and be willing to report suspicious or criminal behavior. LiveSafe provides an easy way for anyone to report suspicious or criminal behavior. It includes the ability to share video, photo and location services with UTPD. This should include providing tips or information relative to drug sales. The unfortunate truth is that most shootings or robberies that occur in our area are related to drug sales. Though many believe marijuana is a mostly harmless drug, it is still the most often used, bought or sold drug in this (and most other) area and is often at the root of these issues. Reporting a neighbor using or dealing these drugs could at the very least result in the termination of their residence contract and thus make our campus community safer.
The UT Police Department website provides an overview of the UT Police Department, our mission, our triple accreditation, and access to UTPD’s 60-day crime log and other safety information. Of particular note, I would encourage students, organizations and others to review the list of safety-related educational programs offered by the UTPD Community Relations Unit at https://safety.utk.edu/police/programs. The Community Relations Unit also oversees our recently expanded Campus Liaison program which partners a UTPD officer with each of our residence halls and many of our larger student organizations. For example, I am currently assigned as the liaison for Vol Hall.
A couple of you mentioned specific questions relative to moving around campus after hours. Here are some links to our Parking Services. The first link provides after hours, point-to-point services throughout the night. https://parking.utk.edu/safety-at-night/ and https://ridethet.utk.edu.
We as a department remain committed to the security and welfare of the Volunteer community and we will strive to make the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, a place where our students and staff can continue to safely learn and work.
Associate Vice Chancellor of Public Safety
Chief of Police
The University of Tennessee