Shots Across the Bow

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Knox County Sheriff’s Department Comes Up Short on Drug Busts

Lags Behind Surrounding Counties as well as Similarly Sized Counties


According to records kept by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Crime Statistic's Unit, the Knox County Sheriff's Office has the lowest arrest rates for narcotics in the Knoxville Metropolitan area, and falls far behind the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department, a similarly sized county in East Tennessee. The KCSO has a lower proportion of total drug arrests when compared to the Knoxville Police Department than any of the other city/county groups in our region.

Last month, a grieving mother asked a simple questions. "How Often Does KCSO Actually Arrest, Charge Drug Dealers?"

Katie Granju's oldest son, Henry, died of a drug overdose two years ago. Tennessee Law states that anyone who gives drugs illegally to another person is guilty of Homicide in the Second Degree if that person dies from those drugs. Yet the Knox County Sheriff's Department closed the investigation into Henry's death without any arrests or charges being filed. Coincidentally, on the day Henry died, another Knoxville teenager, Amber Blizard, also died of a drug overdose. While her death was within a different jurisdiction, her mother received the same result. No arrests, no charges, no justice.

As Ms. Granju fought for Justice for Henry, the KPD responded. They looked into her allegations, and as a result, launched an investigation that resulted in felony indictments against the three adults involved with Henry's overdose. While those indictments were not specific to Henry's death, they did involve drug trafficking, including sales within protected areas, such as school zones. Additionally, the KPD is re-examining Amber Blizard's case, in the hopes of finally finding justice for her, and closure for her mother.

The KCSO, on the other hand, continued to insist that they did a thorough job, that there was no prosecutable crime, and that the folks who were present when Henry died were simple "Good Samaritans," trying to help a young man in trouble. Their arrests last September, combined with their criminal histories, put the lie to that claim. But the reluctance of the KCSO to conduct a truly thorough investigation led Ms. Granu to ask if Henry's case was unique, or if the way the KCSO handled Henry's case was standard operating procedure.

That question is now answered.

The records show a total of 276 Drug/Narcotics violations for the KCSO for 2010, while the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department notched 480 violations over the same time period. That difference is made more stark by the fact that roughly 250,000 Knox County residents are subject to KCSO jurisdiction while only 103,000 Hamilton County residents are outside city limits and subject to the County Sheriff's jurisdiction. Additionally, the budget for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office was just under $30 million in 2010; while the KCSO spent over $70 million. With twice the number of residents, and over twice the budget, the KCSO recorded roughly half the violations.

A survey of other crimes do not show this same level of disparity. Hamilton County and Knox County show comparable rates for Murder, Rape, Aggravated Assault, and Burglary. However, Knox County does show elevated levels of Robbery, Shoplifting, and Auto Theft. In fact, the only major crime statistic surveyed that shows Knox County at a significantly lower level than Hamilton County is Drug/Narcotics violations.

The KCSO shortfall becomes even more obvious when city statistics are examined. In Hamilton County, the Sheriff's Department has jurisdiction over 31% of the county's total population and accounts for 23% of all Drug/Narcotics violations. In contrast, the KCSO has jurisdiction over 59% of the residents in the county, yet accounts for only 11% of the total Drug/Narcotic arrests.

The KCSO fares just as poorly when compared to the eight surrounding counties. The KCSO has the lowest Drug/Narcotic arrest rate (1.09) per 1000 residents of any of the contiguous eight counties. The KCSO also has the highest disparity between city and county drug arrests with the KCSO notching only 9% of the KPD's arrest rate per 1000 residents.

The combination of the KPD/KCSO comparisons, the relative crime rates between similar jurisdictions, and the comparison with other counties in the region make it clear that there is a drug enforcement problem within the KCSO. The numbers discount the possibility that drug traffic within Knox County is exceptionally low, especially since Knox County's position on the I-75 corridor tends to suggest a higher level of drug activity when compared to similarly sized communities away from the Interstate.

The traffic is there; it is the enforcement that is missing.

DISCLOSURE: I am a friend/acquaintance of Ms. Granju. While we have met in person less than five or six times, we have spoken extensively about this case, both professionally, as writers, and personally, as friends. It was this relationship that inspire me to dig into the records to find the answer to her question; however, the numbers come directly from state sources and are linked for easy verification. Statistics for this article came from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Crime Statistic's Unit and the US Census Quick Facts page. This article is available for reposting or reprinting in its entirety as long as authorship (Rich and Lissa Hailey) is acknowledged. An image of the spreadsheet used is available here.
Posted by Rich
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That's some damn good leg work, Rich. Very, very good and I am glad you put that all as ratios per 1000. The only claim KCSO can make is that there is less drug abuse in its jurisdiction.
Posted by Toby  on  01/25  at  05:00 PM

Also, it needs to be considered that Knox County is recognized to have an exceptionally high rate of drug trafficking relative to population compared to other similar populations by number because of our geographic location dead center on the east coast, I-75 drug trafficking corridor. In that context, these numbers become even more alarming.
Posted by Katie Allison Granju  on  01/25  at  05:22 PM

excellent work!
Posted by amy  on  01/25  at  05:33 PM

Nice work, Rich. I smell a rat with a badge.
Posted by Betsy Allison Tant  on  01/25  at  06:58 PM

Oops! Now I see you already addressed that issue I mentioned in my last comment. Sorry!
Posted by Katie Allison Granju  on  01/25  at  10:00 PM

"Tennessee Law states that anyone who gives drugs illegally to another person is guilty of Homicide in the Second Degree if that person dies from those drugs."

They should expand that to include guns, cars, and everything else. We won't become the Borg until collective responsibility is a universal mandate, and I'm really tired of having to think for myself.
Posted by Nobody  on  02/01  at  12:56 PM

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