By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Police urge caution, explain Zap It! at Knoxville block watch meeting


October 14, 2008

The October 6 meeting of the Knoxville 30th Ward Block Watch began with an overview of local crime by Crime Prevention Officer Christine Luffey and Commander Catherine McNeilly.

Also in attendance was Ken Wolfe, representing city Councilman Bruce Kraus, who updated residents on issues raised at the prior block watch meeting.

Officer Luffey reported there were four armed robberies in the past month in the area. 

In one instance, two 18-year-old male victims were robbed at 1 a.m. on September 9 by two black males, 17 to 18 years of age, with guns.

In a September 30 incident at 9 p.m., a black male jumped the victim as the latter was walking on the street.  Both had guns.  The assailant took both guns and fled.

On September 28 at 1:30 a.m., a black male aimed a gun in the mouth of his victim, stealing his money and cell phone.

An attendee commented that local thieves, ages 13 to 16, who are robbing residents at gunpoint have not been apprehended.

Officer Luffey said one line of defense is information sharing, as in the initiative brought to Zone 3 by Commander McNeilly.

Under the program, called "Zap It!," Officer Luffey will communicate via email — to the entire zone or specific officers – information she gleans from the public meetings she attends.

That information would range from specific complaints to concerns to tips about suspected illegal activities.  

If, say, robberies were occurring at night, she would contact the night shift about the matter.  She would also alert the citywide robbery squad, which has teams in the various zones.

As she will receive a copy of all email, Commander McNeilly will be able to tell if the comments are being responded to.

"Zap It!" is close to being up and running in Zone 3. 

Commander McNeilly said there were 37 robberies in the district last month.  The good news is there were 18 arrests.

The economic crisis, she said, is helping fuel the crimes.

"We are very painfully aware that times are hard, and the bad guys are hurting as badly as the good guys," she said.

To a question of whether those arrested remain in jail, she said that is up to the judges on a case-by-case basis.

Officer Luffey offered these tips on avoiding becoming a victim:

1. Walk in pairs, keep your head up, and be aware of your surroundings.  Looking people in the eye might deter a potential crime as the criminal knows you got a good look at him.

2. Carry and use pepper spray.

To a question of what to do if assaulted by young teen thugs, Officer Luffey said to defend oneself, and call 911.

The attendee said the youngsters throw apples at vehicles, and harbor bb guns, which could someday be mistaken for a real gun, with dire consequences.

An attendee commented that all the laws against disciplining children help fuel this problem as the youngsters know the adults' legal limitations.

Officer Luffey said residents should sign up for free crime alerts from the police through the CitizenObserver. The website is:

Residents will receive both good and bad news via email or text messages.   Crime statistics for individual neighborhoods will be posted in the near future.

To a question of what happens to all the confiscated illegal guns, Officer Luffey said they are taken to the crime lab, where an attempt is made to track them.

To another question about guns being sold at flea markets, Commander McNeilly said a license is required to do so.

Regarding the zone move, she said Mayor Ravenstahl said it would occur by January 1.  But most likely it will be later than that, perhaps even in the fall.

"Personally, I don't think it matters, though I know it matters to you," she said.  With computers in the officers' cars, the officers' physical location doesn't matter as much as it did years ago, she said.

Regarding home safety, she suggested lights with sensors, and alarms, although the latter are an expense.

With sensors, the lights come on anytime someone approaches the house.

When an attendee complained about drug dealing and smoking on her street, Commander McNeilly asked for the address, which she will turn over to the proper officials.

To a question about the future number of officers in the zone, she said that on January 1 she will lose six officers and two cars with the removal of four districts from the zone.

While she doesn't expect many new officers from the next graduating class as she is losing so few in January, she said Knoxville will receive more attention with the loss of the four districts.

To a question of why so many young males are killing one another, she said they have no sense, or fear, "or that this is for real."

They get mad over nothing, such as drugs, girls, greed, or jealousy, and have no respect for anything, she said.

The next block watch meeting will be sometime during the first week of December.


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