Amid nationwide protests against police brutality, the Knoxville Police Department isued a new use of force policy. But many leaders have called for more substatianal police reform in Knoxville, including increased civilian oversight.
LaKenya Middlebrook was appointed Wednesday by Mayor Kincannon as the executive director of Knoxville's Police Advisory and Review Committee, also known as PARC. The group will meet Thursday for the first time since recent protests. Middlebrook said critical conversations about policing have been happening in Knoxville for decades, and in 1998 resulted in the creation of PARC.
“There's still a lot of work to do in terms of ensuring that all communities are experiencing public safety in an equitable way," Middlebrook added.
HEDDLES: What made you want to become a member of PARC and then continue on for another term?
MIDDLEBROOK: I am a native Knoxvillian, born and raised in East Knoxville. I was in my late teens around the time that PARC was created. For those who aren't familiar with the history of PARC, it was birthed out a period of time when there had been multiple officer-involved shootings that resulted in deaths of mostly Black men. There was a lot of distrust in the city of Knoxville between certain communities, most specifically traditionally Black communities, and law enforcement. It was a very tense, tense time in our community and I was coming of age during that period. PARC was birthed out of some advocacy by members of our community to develop this civilian oversight body. It was really, really important to me and I was honored when I was offered the opportunity to serve on that committee and to be a part of this work because I think it's something that has to be ongoing. It's so critical for members of the community to have a voice in how their communities are policed, what public safety means and looks like in our communities and so that's what has driven me to be a part of this committee.
HEDDLES: After being a member of PARC for almost 4 years, what are the ways that you’ve seen PARC be limited in its power to hold officers accountable?
MIDDLBROOK: One of the interesting things about PARC is that they are recommendations, and so KPD has at times taken recommendations that we have made and implemented them in terms of their training or things like that. But what PARC does not do is enforce any type of disciplinary action, we don't have the capacity to unilaterally make changes to KPD policy. That is something that I think a lot of folks in the community talk quite a bit about is whether or not it would be appropriate for civilian oversight, not just in our communtiy its a nationwide conversation, what authority civilian oversight boards should have or could have.
HEDDLES: Is there anything else you think our listeners should know?
MIDDLEBROOK: We encourage as many folks as feel the need to take advantage of the services that we have with PARC. As many folks who are interested in this issue to come to our meetings, even if you don't have anything to say or share, just to learn and hear and be a part of the conversation in that way.
More details about Thursday's meeting are on PARC's website.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.