KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The pace of violence in Knoxville has been staggering in just the last few weeks.
“I worked the streets during the crack epidemic and we thought that was horrible. This is thousands of times worse,” said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.
On average, the city sees between 18 and 24 homicides per year. Ten have happened just since May 15. Rausch said most of them are drug related. He says the opioid epidemic is fueling the illegal drug market with cheaper and quicker fixes, oftentimes more deadly thanks to the latest craze on the market, fentanyl. It’s much more powerful than morphine and is medically used as a sedative for elephants. Many now use it to get high.
Rausch says at 19 homicides in Knoxville for the year, it’s putting a strain on detectives.
“It certainly is working our investigative staff harder than they’ve ever worked,” he said. “And they don’t rest. So the team that’s been working that one the double homicide yesterday, they’ve been at it since 1:30 yesterday. They literally set cots up in the office and take a nap while they’re taking shifts to deal with issues.”
Chief Rausch said the public at large shouldn’t be concerned.
“You know I think the general public certainly don’t have to be up in arms. I think we all should be concerned that people are losing their lives, but in terms of worrying about your personal safety, quite frankly if you’re not involved in the drug trade, if you’re not involved in a gang, then your chances of being involved in these situations are much less.”
Rasuch says the key is to prevent young people from getting involved in drug activity in the first place. The hope is to limit demand. If there’s no demand, there’s virtually no supply.
On average, one person dies every other day from a drug overdose in the city of Knoxville. That’s where intervention is needed, but the challenge becomes access to treatment for those who want help.
“It’s absolutely a broken system right now,” said Rausch.
The system is even harder to navigate for those who are uninsured and unemployed. Rausch says police are often only seen when they’re needed, and that’s usually only in a crisis. Getting out in the community is just one of many tactics to help reduce the violence and break down the barrier between the average Joe and someone in uniform.
“That’s the trust we have to build. Those are the relationships we have to work on,” he said.
Rausch says while they’re out working to keep the community safe, they need residents to be their eyes and ears. He says he knows the fear of helping police is real, but he wants people to know they can remain anonymous and help can be as small as a nickname or a description of a car.