KPD creates new board to examine force use

KPD Chief Paul Noel describes the new Use of Force Review Board during an August 17 press conference. (Screenshot from video)

Whenever officers from the Knoxville Police Department take a life, injure a suspect, or fire their guns, their actions will soon be subjected to an-depth examination by a Use of Force Review Board, officials announced Wednesday.

“In essence, this Board will serve as another quality control mechanism to improve our overall operations as a police department,” explained Police Chief Paul Noel.

“As a department, we should never turn down an opportunity to take a really close look at these more serious or consequential uses of force,” Noel said. “Even in instances when we follow all of our training and policies by the book, there are likely more nuanced matters that we can address to avoid putting our officers or citizens in harm’s way or a situation where our officers have to resort to using deadly force.”  

His comments came during a press conference announcing that four officers had been cleared in the controversial shooting death of 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr. in an Austin-East Magnet High School last year. 

“Even though the actions of our officers were justified and within policy, we should never pass up an opportunity to learn from these incidents and improve our operations,” he said while publicly introducing the concept of the new Board. 

Although it was brought up in the context of a discussion about Thompson’s death, Noel said his decision to create the Board didn’t stem from the incident, which occurred more than a year before he took office. 

Officers already face scrutiny from their supervisors or KPD’s Internal Affairs Unit when force is used, but those reviews are oriented toward determining if disciplinary action needs to be taken due to policy violations.

The new Board, however, will approach use of force incidents from the three standpoints of training, tactics and policy, explained Noel. 

Also, he continued, the Board’s responsibilities won’t overlap with those of the Police Advisory & Review Committee (PARC), a civilian review board created in 1998 after the deaths of four men, three of them Black, in confrontations with KPD officers over a seven-month period. PARC is comprised of seven civilian volunteers and a full-time executive director hired by the mayor who provide an independent review of police activity.

The Board will instead take “a deep dive” into the circumstances that led to force being used and determine if the department needs to adjust its policy, procedures or training. It will review all in-custody deaths and instances when deadly force is used as well as firearm discharges, encounters with civilians resulting in serious physical injury or hospitalization, and K-9 bites.

Assistant Chief Mark Fortner has been put in charge of creating the Board, which will be comprised of KPD members, and he will chair it once it becomes operational, according to Noel.

Officials didn’t provide an estimate as to how long it will take to get the Board up and running.

Published on August 18, 2022.